Japanese ambassador of Norwegian music

She lives in Osaka, Japan and works as an assistant to a patent attorney. How come a Japanese woman runs Supersilent’s unofficial web site, writes reviews of almost every Norwegian new jazz/improvisation albums, and is one of the most updated persons on Norwegian music?

Grinningtroll 2004

The story about Mizuho Yabe (32) is very fascinating. She came across Norwegian music through the German label ECM and then noticed that there were more interesting music coming from the country up North. It was Arild Andersen who started it all. In 1999, she listened to some of Arild Andersen’s recordings on ECM, which sparked her interested. After she got hold of Trygve Seim’s “Different Rivers" (2000), Yabe went to the Molde International Jazz Festival, where she met Seim in person. Since then, she has focused on Norwegian and Nordic music. MIC English has interviewed the woman behind the www.grinningtroll.com web site.

How would you characterise the type of Norwegian music you like?
Free from restraints, such as categorising or commercialism (of course, I know there is commercial music in Norway, too). With respect to Norwegian jazz, I prefer it free from traditional style. Many Norwegian musicians seem to have the chance to do what they like and they are skilled enough to realise their style.

I also find the influence from the Norwegian folk music interesting. At the same time, the sound and ideas of Arve Henriksen, who is my favourite musician or Maja Ratkje’s composition “Gagaku Variations" - are strongly influenced by Japanese traditional music. Their music is very impressive for me, I felt I found something in their music that I have in myself without being aware of.

You said you came across Norwegian music through ECM. When was that, and how did you go about to get hold of the music (did you order the albums online or could you find them in record stores Osaka)?
That was in 1999. At that time, it was quite difficult to find Norwegian music in this country and I ordered a lot of albums online. Now, most of the new ECM catalogs are available in Japan.

Have you been to Norway?
Yes, twice. The first time was when I visited Molde Jazzfestival in 2001. The second time was in February 2003 when I visited Oslo.

Which Norwegian bands have you seen in Japan or other places?
“Karta Quartet" feat. Arild Andersen and Terje Rypdal (2000, Berlin, Germany).
Pat Metheny w/ Trondheim Jazzorkester, Andersen / Rypdal / Christensen / Stockhausen, Trygve Seim Orchestra, Krøyt / Fläskkvartetten, Metheny / Andersen / Nilssen-Love, Tri-Dim w/ Barry Guy, Jazzkammer / Merzbow, Kornstad Trio w/ Pat Metheny (2001, Molde)
Petter Wettre Quartet (2001, Oslo)
Bugge Wesseltoft, Wibutee (2002, Yokohama, Japan)
Nils Petter Molvær (2002, Tokyo and Osaka)
“Brother will you pray for me" project feat. Kristin Asbjørnsen, Jon Balke Batagraf feat. Arve Henriksen (2003, Lillehammer)
Frode Gjerstad Trio w/ Peter Brötzmann, Supersilent, Erlend Øye, Jaga Jazzist (2003, Oslo)
Christian Wallumrød Quartet (2003, Darmstadt, Germany)
Ephemera (2003, Osaka, Japan)
Poing (2003, Kasugai, Japan)
Ole Edvard Antonsen w/ Fassang Laszlo (2003, Shiga, Japan)
Urban Connection (2003, Tokyo, Japan)
Karin Krog and Jacob Young (2003, Osaka, Japan)

Next one will be Jan Garbarek Group in February 2004 in Tokyo.

Can you tell more about your web site?
On my site, I write reviews of albums and concerts as well as news articles (news is at the 'diary' page). Recently, many people here in Japan have started to pay much attention to Norwegian music, but the problem is 'lack of information' - which is caused by the Norwegian language and that there are not so many critics/writers who know the Norwegian scene very well. So I try to write the up-to-date information and hope that would help someone to find this interesting music. But most important, I would like to do something for the music I really like.

How do you find the information, can you read some Norwegian?
Yes. I can read short sentences like news headlines without dictionary, but it is still difficult for me to read interviews or reviews. I'm checking out MIC’s site everyday to pick up the local news, but it is much harder to read Norwegian than English though.

What kind of response have you received for your grinningtroll site?
Well, most of the people who read my site are silent viewers... People find my site through search engines and then come regularly. Sometimes I hear that they took interested in the music I wrote about and actually bought the records I reviewed, which is my greatest pleasure. Most of emails I get from viewers said: “How I could get hold of the album you wrote about?"

Do you know who uses your web site?
Not exactly, but I think most of them are music fans in Japan, but also from foreign countries. I know that some journalists, persons at record labels or record shops are referring to my site. But I don’t care who uses my site. Also, some musicians find their name on my site and contact me.

You mentioned that the interest for Norwegian music has increased in Japan. How come?
It is simply because we have a better chance to listen to Norwegian music now. The biggest problem for Norwegian music in Japan is distribution. Once a record label distributes some Norwegian music and people like it, they start distributing new labels. The situation has become much better lately, but in my opinion, there is still a gap between the Japanese labels who distribute Norwegian music and the listeners who like Norwegian music.

Have you ever meet Supersilent?
Yes, I met them in February 2003 when they played at Blå. As for Arve (Henriksen), I’d met him in 2001 in Molde.

It seems like you have good contact with Rune Grammofon?
Yes, I met Rune at Molde Jazzfestival of year 2001 for the first time (that was before I started the Supersilent web site), and since then, we are keeping in touch.

What kind of music is popular in Japan right now?
This one is the most difficult to answer! The music scene in Japan is very huge and there are very many kinds of music now.

Mizuho Yabe’s web site www.grinningtroll.com is only available in Japanese. However, she has also created Supersilent’s unofficial, but authorised site, which is in English.
MIC can recommend those interested in Norwegian music to check out Yabe’s great number of links. For those in Japan interested in classical Norwegian and Nordic music, Nordic Sound Hiroshima is another place to start. The record store distributes mostly classical music, but also non-classical labels from all the Nordic countries.

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