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By its broadest definition, Nordic Jazz Week encompasses five nights, including a show tonight at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. But Wednesday night at the House of Sweden, in which the big draw was Nils Petter Molvær and Arve Henriksen (pictured above), was treated as a closing night of sorts. The omnipresent threat of rain forced the concert indoors instead of its customary spot on the House of Sweden’s picturesque rooftop, but that didn’t stop a substantial crowd from gathering.

Photos and writeup after the jump. Full gallery here.

Iceland’s Sunna Gunnlaugs Quartet opened the evening with a set of straightforward, at times somewhat tentative jazz, pleasant but hardly revelatory. Henriksen took the stage next, joined by electronics wizard Jan Bang, and the two played as a duo with Bang manipulating the sounds coming from Henriksen’s trumpet and providing additional layers as well. There was a distinct Jon Hassell influence at work here, but Henriksen’s vocals provided a pleasant surprise: he sung wordlessly with amazing range and power, something I wasn’t expecting at all. After some time, Henriksen and Bang were replaced, without a break in the music, by Molvær and his two collaborators, Eivind Aarset on guitar and Audun Kleive on drums. The music changed, becoming somewhat more beat-driven and intense, but the overall feel remained consistent: the House of Sweden seemed to be hosting a psychedelic space-music fest as much as it was an evening of jazz.

The Jonas Kulhammar Quartet brought things back to a more conventional level. Before their set, A Love Supreme played over the PA, which was a fitting prelude to this quartet’s music, which reminded strongly of early 60s Coltrane. Like the Sunna Gunnlaugs Quartet, it was nothing particularly new and exciting, but very much enjoyable and spiced up by Kulhammar’s humorous banter. This quartet will also be playing tonight at the Kennedy Center.

Nordic Jazz Fest has become a reliable annual event at which one can expect to see a good mix of straightforward jazz and slightly more off the wall material. The most “out” the festival has ever gotten was probably the 2006 appearance of Kjetil Møster, but recent years have seen some performances (such as Henriksen/Molvær this year or Kristian Blak last year) gently pushing the boundaries of jazz in diverse directions. I’m already looking forward to what’s in store for 2010.

Nils Petter Molvær:

Jonas Kulhammar Quartet:

Sunna Gunnlaugs:

Full gallery here.