Rolf Erik Nystrom is “On The Edge of Wrong”

The Mahogany Room hosted the 7th annual On The Edge of Wrong festival in Cape Town this past weekend. On The Edge of Wrong bridges different musical approaches of Norwegians and South Africans. As the name suggests, this festival pushes boundaries—personal, collective, improvisational, and the comfort zones of audiences and musicians alike. Morten Kristiansen, who organizes the festival both in Cape Town and Oslo, and a Norwegian jazz artist himself, studied at Cape Town’s College of Music. He created the festival to keep his ties with another country he loves, and I suppose to promote great music too. My immediate question, a musician’s first question, where do find the funding? Unsurprisingly, it’s mostly the Norwegian government (and a few other sponsors). After I asked this, Morten laughed and admitted, “I’ve never made a dime off this, and probably never will.” Big ups!

In an interview, Morten gave a nice analogy of his festival’s name: On The Edge Of Wrong is like a perfect conversation; one where you speak openly, honestly, without censorship of feelings and ideas, that directly connects two different bodies, that is less about content and more about the sheer engagement. And then time flies.


 This year’s promo.

Rolf Erik Nystrom, a Norwegian saxophonist pictured in the beginning of this post, was featured at this year’s installment of hte festival. As you’ll hear for yourself, he straddles the edge of wrong. Nystrom collaborates with many musicians all over Africa, and now has a few more friends in Cape Town: Dizu Plaatjies and Errol Dyers.


Nystrom performs a solo piece.


Nystrom performs a duet with Dizu Plaatjies, a maestro of Xhosa traditional music and instruments.

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In August 2011 I took a train from Sweden to Norway to catch the Oslo Jazz Festival and get a taste for a country known well for its free approach to jazz and music in general. It’s a freer expression of the more straight ahead Nordic Jazz Dialects I soaked up in Stockholm. You can read my thoughts on it here. South African tabla/percussionist Ronan Skillen, while performing at On The Edge of Wrong, candidly admitted how intimidating is is to play free music for so many Norwegians, who can hear this music on the radio in their own country.

The Norwegians I met in Cape Town were not impressed when I told them I attended the Oslo Jazz Festival. It’s too commercial by Norwegian standards. Well, if the Brian Blade Fellowship is commercial, then commercial jazz must be pretty hip in Norway.

The Norwegian-South African connection immediately intrigues me. I’m not an ethnomusicologist. I’m not focusing on any one region or type of music. I’m not even concerned with just jazz anymore. The end all is a meaningful musical dialogue between vastly different countries and traditions—a perfect conversation.

This year, On The Edge of Wrong featured a Norwegian journalist posing questions to local and Norwegian artists and musicians. One of the interviewees was the editor of Chimurenga, a “pan-African publication of writing, arts and politics.” The publication supports the Pan-African Space Station, which archives local live shows as Youtube videos. The video below is of Lwanda Gogwana’s quartet live at Tagore’s, another venue that pushes quality jazz. I was fortunate enough to sit in that night… so the clip features two trumpet players.



The editor of Chimurenga was asked if he had qualms writing about jazz in his publication, specifically considering a Thelonious Monk quote: “Talking about jazz is like dancing about architecture.” The notion does sound silly. Music needs no language. It’s deeper, a supremely direct expression. It makes us dance, smile, laugh, and cry without a word.

But I laughed when I heard this Monk quote. People, and myself included, always have to talk or write about it, whatever it is. So I laughed at myself. For seven months now I’ve been writing about music in my off time. I laughed much later when I concluded that, if you thought like Monk did, your only response would be, Well… what’s wrong with dancing about architecture? Nothing. It’s just not normal. But somehow writing about music is at least not abnormal.

I look back at the (commercial) Brian Blade Fellowship concert at the Oslo Jazz Festival, where I sit at a table with two jazz critics. They work for All About Jazz. I must laugh for these guys too. This is their life. I sat by and listened as they one-upped each other for fifteen minutes, retelling and embellishing their favorite jazz concerts, arguing about elite guitarists today, or how they foresaw Esperanza Spalding becoming the next big thing (a modern diva). I bet these critics would laugh with me. They, like most jazz heads, worship Monk. We all do because Monk was, at least in his day, on the edge of wrong. Which somehow means, retrospectively today, that Monk was the most right.

Well, my feet are tired. I’ve been dancing too long now about architecture. But I have some more music to share. Don’t hesitate to write to me about it.


Reza Khota Trio at Ibuyambo.


Reza Khota (guitar), Shane Cooper (bass), Jonno Sweetman (drums) perform at Ibuyambo

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Happy Feet at Boulder’s Beach