Readers will forgive my own reminiscences here. I was on my way to this same event almost a year ago to the day when Manchester Airport was blown away by Storm Eunice, which had the power of a small nuclear bomb. They still haven’t found parts of it yet.
I wasn’t going to miss this one if I’d had to row across the North Sea in Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki in a reverse Viking invasion.
My expectations for the show were already very high but were exceeded enormously on the night. We’re talking World Class here.
The ‘Eberson’ who was 70 years old in January this year, translating the title and event name, is Jon Arild Eberson to give him his full name; widely acknowledged as probably Norway’s leading jazz guitarist.
Having done the rounds with a variety of bands over the years as well as solo work and a lengthy stint as Associate Professor of Guitar at the Norwegian Academy of Music, in his dotage (meaning ‘second childhood’ here rather than ‘declining years’, thesaurus-checkers) he has hooked up – and not for the first time – with his own daughter, Marte and a bunch of other top class musicians to produce two albums (the second – ‘Between two worlds’ – decidedly more jazz-rock fusion oriented than the first, ‘Empathy’), and a live show to die for, as Eberson.
John Eberson sits down to play his guitar these days but the passion and energy is as evident as it ever was. During last-minute rehearsals I watched him stop a song dead in its tracks, waving his arms about and muttering and cursing, seemingly because one chord played wasn’t the right one. Or perhaps it was just a single note.
Such people are known as perfectionists. They often have big beards.
And in any case I’m reminded that Steve Hackett of Genesis used to play his huge riffs while his butt was parked permanently on a stool, and he was only 20, not 70. You don’t have to cavort all over the stage to be electrifying.
The evening began with a tribute to the Norwegian/Bulgarian jazz vocalist Ellen Radka Toneff, considered to be one of Norway’s greatest jazz singers, and who committed suicide in 1982. Her Radka Toneff quintet included Jon Eberson in its number during the late 1970s.
That was followed by a video montage of Jon in his wild youth (courtesy of Egil Andersen).There were a couple of humorous interview sessions, one of them overseen by renowned drummer Pål Thowsen, who played with both the Ebersons in the Eberson Funk Ensemble in the early 2010s.
In one of the interviews it was revealed that Jon Eberson was a budding tennis player but was refused an opportunity to play for the national team because his hair was too long. “Too late, along came Bjorn Borg” he quipped.
The band consists of the two Ebersons (guitar and keys – strangely perhaps, Marte can only manage a few simple chords on guitar, or so she tells me) Axel Skalstad on drums, Jo Berger Myhre on bass, sound man Ingar Aabo and usually Morten Qvenild also on keys but he couldn’t make it to this gig or a previous one in Bergen at the beginning of February.
That meant an opportunity for Øystein Skar to step into the breach, although I’m assured that it is only temporary. But it has actually turned out rather well. Ms Eberson and Mr Skar have quite a history. Not only are they colleagues in the band Löv, they were previously as well, in the epic alt-pop/rock band Highasakite, for over five years.
They appear to have the ability to read each other’s mind like twins and the chemistry between them is palpable. They stare at each other consistently, each egging the other on to even greater things. It is so intense that, if you’ll pardon the pun, they could be Lövers.
The interplay between them was one of the many highlights of the evening and when Oslo cold-numb white fingers tinkle across ivory keys so fast they’re just a blur, it could be a duel. A showdown between Wakeman and Emerson c.1970, and it was especially noticeable in the encore; a song tagged ‘A Minor Rock’. More like a major earthquake.
I’ll mention Jo Berger Myhre briefly. In most bands the bass player gets the short straw. He doesn’t get a chance to shine, only to play a bass riff competently and add some groove. I’m glad to say that on one occasion, in the song, ‘The Wounded Wolf’ I do believe it was, that opportunity did arise, and he responded to it by to laying down a sublime gentle pattern.
Axel Skalstad is a one man show in his own right. A supremely gifted stick controller with a particularly deft left hand on each of his three snare drums and a variety of cymbals including one that looks like a flying saucer and which is played while sat on the snare drum, he also plays those cymbals with a bow and somehow conjures up electronic sounds like a sci-fi film. He uses brushes like he’s cleaning windows and mixes sticks with brushes. He defies convention.
His technical expertise, subtlety, power and speed when required are at another level but what really make him stand out are his mannerisms. In the midst of a deep percussive section with many hundreds of beats per minute or in any one of the several short solos he played he can look as if he’s gone into a trance, his arms approaching the hittable objects from all directions and facial expressions that convey the suggestion he’s on an acid trip, man. Think Keith Moon. You won’t be far wrong.
And with a baseball cap that has ears topping it all off he could be Animal from The Muppet Show. And yes that is a compliment. Animal was a freaking good drummer I’ll have you know.
And that just leaves The Master. Gently caressing the fret board one moment, then molesting it, then violently assaulting it; all in the space of a few seconds. Making a statement that this is how a jazz guitar is played.
The eight-song set contained six tracks from ‘Between Two Worlds’, and roughly in the order they are on the album. There was nothing from the first Eberson album, ‘Empathy’. Now you might argue that ‘Empathy’ `isn’t a jazz/rock album, it’s more in the way of alt-pop. But unlike its successor it does have vocals throughout, courtesy of Marte, and it would have been nice to mix things up a little, just on one song. And she does have a solo album coming out later in the year. Just a thought.
Instead we got a new song part way through, “on the lines of Mustang Sally.” I couldn’t hear that theme but the gentleman sat next to me certainly could and picked it up straight away.
The ‘Between Two Worlds’ material lies broadly in two camps: dreamy reflective stuff (as titles like ‘Dream Walking’ and ‘Reverie’ suggest) and out and out bangers like ‘Dancing with the big fish’, ‘Between two Worlds’ and especially ‘Strange Highway’, which has enough kinetic power in it to put man back on the moon.
And what the audience who were au fait with the recorded songs really appreciated was the extended jams those songs became. They could have gone on all night and no-one would have complained.
How do you classify Eberson? They have a phrase of their own – ‘Jazz-rock-prog-pop.’ (No acronym available). That’s close enough. There’s something for everyone.
Was it worth it? “You can listen to this music in the UK, Dave. Without bearing the awe-inspiring cost of a trip to Norway” they say. And Norway gets more expensive with every visit, believe me. A burger in a bun, a few crisps and a small beer. Forty quid. I’m not kidding.
Well no, you can’t actually. Unless you go to, say Ronnie Scotts in London, perhaps Matt & Phred’s in Manchester but even at Ronnie’s you won’t necessarily find the power and precision that Eberson produces. Yes, they’re tight as well. Very tight.
And speaking of Ronnie Scott’s that’s where Eberson should be. Soon.
Not for a gig. For a residency.
Find them on:
Photo credit: Eivind Hovig.