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Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2013

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Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2013
Copenhagen, Denmark
July 12-14, 2013
The annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival, with more than a thousand concerts during ten days—spread over more than hundred places and stages across the city—is a special, unique affair. Like other big jazz festivals, it also has its headliners—big names, mostly American, like Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
b.1962
trumpet
, Richard Bona
Richard Bona
Richard Bona
b.1967
bass, electric
, Chick Corea
Chick Corea
Chick Corea
b.1941
piano
, Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
, Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd
b.1938
saxophone
, Marcus Miller
Marcus Miller
Marcus Miller
b.1959
bass, electric
and David Murray
David Murray
David Murray
b.1955
sax, tenor
—but the main thing is the numerous concerts at smaller or bigger places inside or outside, all over the city.

It's up to the visitor to make more or less sharp choices, restrict him/herself or just roaming the city and attending performance at random. Visiting performances at favorite areas or places is also a possibility, or following favorite, interesting musicians' performances at different places in different groups. This last variant is a specialty of the Copenhagen festival. Anyway, it's important to come prepared; some topographical study of the city might be useful in order to get an idea how to get to different places (in time). A thorough study is even advisable and the well-designed festival app—downloadable through the festival website—is an extremely useful tool to do so.

2013 was my second visit to the festival. Last year I restricted myself to just two performances by Jakob Bro
Jakob Bro
Jakob Bro
b.1978
guitar
, Thomas Morgan, Jon Christensen
Jon Christensen
Jon Christensen
b.1943
drums
and chef Jakob Mielcke. Mielcke did his special musiculinary session this year, again together with Bro and Morgan, but this time with Chris Speed
Chris Speed
Chris Speed

saxophone
.

This year, however, I moved in wider circles during three days, with the ILK Collective and the ILK venue as focal point. Friday, July 12 (the first day) offered 137 concerts, Saturday 130, and Sunday—also the last day of the festival—76. There will be much left to explore in coming years, but during this year's three days I not only attended concerts, but had talks with a couple of musicians.


Day 1: Saturday, July 12

The first stop: Kødbyen, the old meatpacking district behind Copenhagen's Central Station. There are three places with concerts, among them the venue of the ILK Collective. The district is a vast area with low-rise functional buildings, some of which are still functioning in their original form. Others have been transformed into restaurants, galleries and studios, or function as offices for creative business companies. There is a section with white buildings, another with grey buildings and yet another with brown buildings. It is now a popular place to go out and a place for trendy nightlife.

The three music venues are situated in the brown area, closest to the Central Station. It is the oldest area and dates back to 1883. Here the DGI-byen can be found—a sports, swimming and conference complex—and the exhibition hall Øksnehallen, originally a stable for 1,600 cattle prior to being slaughtered. The newer white area still serves its original purpose, housing businesses related to the meat industry. The grey part is a smaller area, with cultural activities, offices and meat industries.



The first concert attended was at the Ph-Cafee, where Italian pianist Emanuele Maniscalco
Emanuele Maniscalco
Emanuele Maniscalco
b.1983
drums
, and trumpeter Ivar Hedén and drummer Måns Wikemo (both from Sweden)—all studying in Copenhagen—were playing. They performed soft, vulnerable music. None of the three musicians served the standard tone of his instrument but instead expressed themselves through a diversity of soft tones and special timbres produced by extended techniques. Maniscalco is on a new ECM release as part of the trio Third Reel, where he plays the drums. He moved to Copenhagen in 2012 to deepen his piano studies. The two Swedes, especially drummer Wikemo, already have distinct voices.

Later, the evening continued outside on a small open-air stage in the backyard of the café, where young Danish pianist Søren Gemmer
Søren Gemmer
Søren Gemmer
b.1984
piano
performed in a more straightforward way with a group consisting of bassist Tapani Toivanen, drummer Andreas Fryland and trumpeter Mads la Cour. Gemmer, a gentle, refined melodist, has just released at first (2013), on the Danish ILK label. Two young but excellent groups to start with.

Not only does the audience move criss-cross throughout the city; the musicians do also, very often playing several concerts at different places on different days. Logistics and transportation are mostly self-organized, and frequently visible.

Nothing is specially rebuilt or redesigned; instead, venues are left in their old shape and more or less decayed state, with clear traces of their former industrial usage. The front, for example, an old car repair shop can now be found serving as a bio restaurant, an example of the re-aestheticization. Having your biological meal on spark plugs—Bosch bougies.

The music going on during the festival is an integral part of bigger whole. No efforts were made to create a huge mono-functional festival space. It was up to people to drop in or out at the venues, entry of which was for decent ticket prices—or even for free. This applied all over the town during the ten days of the festival.

To get to the ILK venue, it was necessary to enter through a small port in a railing to get to the slaughterhouse blocks. The music was happening in a compartment at the end of the 5e cross block. No clearing up or redesigning, either inside or outside; instead, just the raw state—simple, with some sparse accents as minimal necessary lighting. It was a receptive sphere, where it could be sensed that the music was being played for, shared and carried by an eager audience. A sphere, then, of joint attention and adventure.



Going for a completely unknown group, Eggs Laid By Tigers, only drummer Peter Bruun and pianist Simon Toldam were familiar. With plans to meet both of them in the next couple of days, it was a good reason to watch and listen incognito. Bruun and Toldam are involved in a variety of groups. Bruun is a member of Django Bates
Django Bates
Django Bates
b.1960
piano
Beloved Trio, and also plays in a trio with Samuel Blaser
Samuel Blaser
Samuel Blaser
b.1981
trombone
and Marc Ducret
Marc Ducret
Marc Ducret
b.1957
guitar
. Toldam is the pianist in Han Bennink
Han Bennink
Han Bennink
b.1942
drums
's trio. But what about Eggs Laid By Tigers? The announcements hinted at something special—extraordinary, even—whatever that might be.

It came as a total surprise when the group started: three guitarists sang heartfelt songs in colorful and vital close harmony. It felt as if Levon Helm was suddenly back on earth or ... but wait, these guys clearly were songsmiths of their own. What they gave were songs comprising a basic musical feeling expressed straight but in a sophisticated way—songs evoking happy moments of memory, facing the future wide awake and dream-facing. That kind of quality of pure joy. Brunn sang and played acoustic guitar from behind his drum kit; Toldam played on old Phillips organ from the '60s. The bass guitarist sang the lead in close unison with electric guitarist Martin Ullits Dahl. The group's excellent lead singer ultimately turned out to be Berlin-based jazz bassist Jonas Westergaard. A really surprising, seizing metamorphosis.

Eggs Laid By Tigers? The image originates from Dylan Thomas (1914-1953). The group's songs were based on texts by the author of the famous play Under Milk Wood—again surprisingly unique—and its first album, Under The Mile Off Moon (available as vinyl plus download only) will soon be released worldwide.

This first encounter shed a light on the ILK Collectiveand its artistic and musical layout. ILK—Independent Label Kopenhagen—is a collective founded 10 years ago by a group of young musicians in order to create an independent manner to record, document, distribute and perform their own music. As drummer Kresten Osgood put it: "It started because everybody got fed up with the established jazz labels and started to produce their own albums and create their own labels. A lot of these small labels were finally combined into ILK, which is a record label and a musicians' collective."

A stable number of 20 musicians are now members of the collective: Anders Banke (bcl/ts); Anders Filipsen; Elena Setien; Francesco Bigoni; Jacob Anderskov, Jeppe Skovbakke; Jesper Lovdal
Jesper Lovdal
Jesper Lovdal

sax, tenor
; Kresten Osgood; Laura Toxværd, Lotte Anker
Lotte Anker
Lotte Anker
b.1958
saxophone
; Mark Solborg; Nils Bo Davidsen; Peter Bruun; Qarin Wikström; Simon Toldam; Stefan Pasborg; Stephan Sieben; Sture Ericson; Søren Kjærgaard and Torben Snekkestad.

During the festival, ILK ran 48 concerts with 95 musicians, also celebrating its own 10th anniversary. The program consisted of local and global bands with internationally acknowledged performers including Koichi Makigami (JP), Thomas Morgan (US), Gerald Cleaver (US), Marc Lohr (LU), Beppe Scardino (IT), Liudas Mockunas (LT), Phil Minton
Phil Minton
Phil Minton
b.1940
vocalist
(UK), Herman Müntzing (SE), Anders Lindsjö (SE), Ceci Quinteros (AR), Lars Andreas Haug (NO), Ned Ferm (US), Mikko Innanen
Mikko Innanen
Mikko Innanen
b.1978
saxophone
(FIN), Butch Lacy (US/DK), Johannes Bauer
Johannes Bauer
Johannes Bauer
b.1954
trombone
(G), and Axel Dorner
Axel Dorner
Axel Dorner
b.1964
trumpet
(G). The ILK catalog and ILK concerts demonstrated plenty of regularly and recurrent international collaborations over the years with artists including Jon Balke
Jon Balke
Jon Balke
b.1955
piano
, Jeff Ballard
Jeff Ballard
Jeff Ballard
b.1963
drums
, Han Bennink, Paul Bley
Paul Bley
Paul Bley
b.1932
piano
, Gerald Cleaver, Andrew Cyrille
Andrew Cyrille
Andrew Cyrille
b.1939
drums
, Henry Grimes
Henry Grimes
Henry Grimes
b.1935
bass, acoustic
, Evan Parker
Evan Parker
Evan Parker
b.1944
sax, tenor
, Chris Speed, Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
Craig Taborn
b.1970
keyboard
, John Tchicai
John Tchicai
John Tchicai
1936 - 2012
saxophone
and Cuong Vu
Cuong Vu
Cuong Vu
b.1969
trumpet
.

ILK is a forerunner which has triggered the foundation of new collectives and labels. During the past ten years a distinctive artistic profile of openness and diversity has been created, liberated from various kinds of patterns, postulates and prescriptions and dedicated to explorative risk-taking, intuition and consciousness of form serving the creation of firm new expression.

Day 2: Sunday, July 13

The second day began with an interview with drummer/pianist Emanuele Maniscalco, originally from Brescia, in Northern Italy. For the past year he has been studying at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen to deepen his piano capabilities. Denmark has a tradition of musical education where classically notated music and rhythmic music are distinguished on all levels of schooling, hence the name of the conservatory. Together with Swiss guitarist Roberto Pianca
Roberto Pianca

guitar, electric
, from Lugano, and Swiss saxophonist/clarinetist Nicolas Masson
Nicolas Masson
b.1972
sax, tenor
, from Geneva, Maniscalco forms Third Reel, where he plays drums, the trio's self-titled debut released earlier this year on ECM.

Maniscalo gave some insight into the recording of Third Reel at the Lugano Studio. Issues such as the balancing of body and mind in music-making were touched upon, as well as the minimal means principle, the importance of early memory as a source in music and slowing things down.

The first concert of the day took place in the Frederiksberg district. Frederiksberg is a fashionable, green area in the western part of Copenhagen, with the oasis of Frederiksberg Gardens. It is more posh than Nørrebro and Vesterbro, and the people living here are usually older and more established. The main street through Frederiksberg is Gammel Kongevej: shopping, sushi restaurants, cafes and delis. The same is true for Værnedamsvej Street, which is both cozy and cool.

Pianist Nikolaj Hess
Nikolaj Hess
Nikolaj Hess

piano
was playing in a duo with singer Caroline Henderson at Bartof Café, Ndr. Fasanenvej. Henderson, a well-known figure from the Danish scene, subbed for Dutch saxophonist Marc Momaas, from New York, who could not make it. Both are regular musical partners with Hess and a good indication of his musical and geographical range, the pianist dividing his time between New York and Copenhagen.



I decided to take a bike to get to different venues spread around the city. Copenhagen is a biker-friendly city, as popular as Amsterdam, even, and the bike paths were perfect, even though it took more than double the time to Fasanenvej, which meant more than 50 minutes. The next destination was back in the center of town at Kødbye, and then back to the northeastern part to Statens Museum for Kunst. After half a day crossing the city, some useful reference points were revealed and some good routes so that the next and final day, it went both more smoothly and quickly by bike.

Nikolaj Hess was probably the busiest musician in town during the festival. He did at least three concerts per day—very often, even six. Finally meeting him for a talk on Sunday, before a trio concert with his two brothers, saxophonist Emil and drummer Mikkel, he had played the night before until 4 o'clock in the morning at Hess Spacelab, then took the early train to Aarhus in the northwestern part of Denmark for a festival gig, returned to play the trio gig and then, again, did the late night Hess Spacelab. The Spacelab was a regular jam spot in the center of the town, where festival artists like Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
came to sit in. Still, Hess took the time for a relaxed talk about his last album, Trio (Gateway, 2013), which he recorded last year in Brooklyn with Tony Scherr as bassist and Kenny Wollesen on drums.

Bartof Café is one of the small club/café venues in Copenhagen with regular programming of attractive live concerts at a high level. During the festival. Hess played there in various combinations, with Pierre Dorge
Pierre Dorge
Pierre Dorge
b.1946
, George Garzone
George Garzone
George Garzone
b.1950
sax, tenor
, Jonas Westergaard, Bob Rockwell, Christine von Bülow, Sissel Vera Pettersen and Malene Mortensen, to name a few. Hess and Henderson went through wonderful renderings of American standards or evergreens, and some really remarkable versions of Kurt Weill songs. A big pleasure on an early Saturday afternoon in the summer!

After this intimate gig, a meeting with young Danish saxophonist/composer Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard revealed his latest projects. Løkkegaard released the extraordinary Vesper (Self Produced) last year. He was probably one of the rare exceptions of a Copenhagen jazz musician who—due to the birth of his second child—was not involved in any festival gigs. He is very much into exploring different aspects tone colors, their layering, extension and expansion. His newest work, written solely in his head and then recorded with a group of apt performers, explores the interferences of tonal colors of multiple clarinets. It reveals a process that works more and more for the composer.

From Frederiksberg, it was then back on the bike to the ILK venue in Kødbye, where the threesome of reedist Sture Ericson, bassist Nils Bo Davidsen and drummer Peter Bruun were playing. Bruun was part of an impressive performance with trombonist Samuel Blaser and guitarist Marc Ducret at Jazzdor in Berlin. Here it was a revelation once again, because of the masterful inventive way these musicians created real-time music.

Both Davidson and Ericson are top-notch musicians, with bassist Davidson perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of Danish jazz. They played one long piece, which started with a kind of sound exorcism and continued as a miraculous flow of abstract sounds. Unusual sound configurations proceeded in a fluent and seemingly logical way, creating a wondrous coherent whole. After this surprising experience Bruun met for a chat which touched on questions like unintended involvement in the creative process of real-time music—its paradoxes, tensions and pitfalls—and the dialectics of rules, patterns and clichés. Bruun has two new releases on vinyl—Under The Mile Off Moon, by Eggs Laid By Tigers, and even hotter off the press, Unintended Consequences, a quintet album with a stellar lineup of pianist Søren Kjærgaard, saxophonist/clarinetist Torben Snekkestad, bassist Jonas Westergaard and Norwegian trumpeter Eivind Lønning, an all-Scandinavian affair. All are groups and individuals on which to keep both ears and eyes.

Danes are apparently fond of vinyl and carefully designed sleeves and boxes. Owning some beautiful pieces already, it's clear that vinyl is meant to be something special , but this is no exception at all in the Danish context. Many albums on ILK are released as vinyl only, which means it is not an extra but a special category connected with a special way of listening to music. In the case of Unintended Consequences, the back of the sleeve is designed as a studio sheet with handwritten information on the original recording tapes. The copies of the Unintended Consequences vinyl are numbered and also have the following additional handwritten info on the album: "The consequences of an act may be unintended or intended. A state of affairs is an unintended consequence of an act if it results from the act , although it was not the aim of the act to bring about this state of affairs. An intended consequence of an act, on the other hand, reflects a will, plan, or desire to make a particular state of affairs obtain. Only conscious beings with complex mental states can have aims in this way. Tables and avalanches, for example, do not." A special mental and emotional space: a new culture of listening is being created by the committed reintroduction of this kind of vinyl.

After an inspiring conversation with Bruun it was back on the bike again, changing places from ILK to Statens Museum For Kunst, where Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell
b.1951
guitar
played with his Big Sur Sextet, preceded by a performance of Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg
Palle Mikkelborg
Palle Mikkelborg
b.1941
trumpet
, harpist Helen Davies and pianist Carsten Dahl
Carsten Dahl
Carsten Dahl
b.1967
. It was a big contrast not only venue-wise but also musically. Everything looked beautiful and inviting. The main purpose was to see Palle Mikkelborg, one of the legendary Danish musician who is now in his seventies, for the first time live. It turned out to be an anticlimax. Mikkelborg still has his excellent tone on the trumpet, but excelled a bit too much in exhibiting attitudes referring to Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
. Dahl courageously gave the music his own twists, but Mikkelborg did not open up for music beyond his ego. It remained a series of nice small musical splinters.

Bill Frisell brought the work of his new album, Big Sur (Okeh, 2013) to the Museum's stage. The quintet of the recording—cellist Hank Roberts
Hank Roberts
Hank Roberts
b.1954
cello
, violist Eyvind Kang, violinist Jenny Scheinman and drummer Rudy Royston
Rudy Royston
Rudy Royston

drums
were augmented by violinist Carrie Rodriguez.

The album contains great pieces of music and the string thing is challenging. But the question was if it would also work well in a stretched out version live. Apparently it did not appeal to the audience as a whole. There were listeners who were deeply drawn in and there were listeners who found it monotonous. Within the long arches, the sheer endless repetition of colors and shifts were poor. The emphasis was on the broad meandering of melodic lines evoked by all five string-instruments. There was, however, some spectrality. Kang sometimes went cautiously into microtonal playing; there was some integrated soloing by the violins which lifted the music up occasionally, and unison playing with a minute time lag or contrasting bowing direction helped counterbalance the music a bit.

Making it back to ILK in time to hear the rawer qualities of pianist Simon Toldam's Little Stork Orchestra, consisting of Sture Ericson on alto sax and bass clarinet, Mads Hyhne, trombone, and Jimmy Nyborg, trumpet, plus bassist Nils Davidsen and drummer Peter Bruun. It was a heavily contrasting thing in body and mind with the preceding experience, a strong salute to the Copenhagen summer night. The music of Toldam's group shifted in ever surprising ways between dusky, shadowy movements, frenetic outbursts and clear melodic shapes (traces of Sun Ra
Sun Ra
Sun Ra
1914 - 1993
keyboard
, Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
1937 - 2014
bass, acoustic
's Liberation Music Orchestra and Instant Composers Pool). His music was enormously rich but not easy to pin down, consume or grasp. There was always something left which waited to be taken up into reality.

Unfortunately the preceding concert of eminent Danish saxophonist Lotte Anker, with German trombonist Johannes Bauer, young Danish bassist Adam Pultz Melbye
Adam Pultz Melbye
Adam Pultz Melbye
b.1981
bass
and American drummer Gerald Cleaver was missed; according to people attending, it was extraordinary.



Day 3: July 14

The final day's first meeting was with pianist Simon Toldam, having met him earlier as member of the Han Bennink Trio. He spoke of his new trio album. Sunshine Sunshine or Green as Grass, with Nils Davidsen on bass and Knut Finsrud on drums, released on ILK as a two-LP set (as well as on CD), with a remarkably designed black sleeve. Toldam touched on questions such as his song-driven nature, recording locations and procedures, the physical surroundings of music-making, norms and expectations over music-making for real audiences, trust among fellow musician and over-accessing the possibility to cross musical universes freely, together with certain fellow musicians.

Next, Carsten Dahl—who, the day before, performed with Palle Mikkelborg at Statens Museum For Kunst. Dahl, known for his collaborations with Arild Andersen
Arild Andersen
Arild Andersen
b.1945
bass, acoustic
, Alex Riel
Alex Riel
Alex Riel
b.1940
drums
, Ed Thigpen
Ed Thigpen
Ed Thigpen
1930 - 2010
drums
, Jon Christensen and others, has had a long career in music. He has released several solo recordings, the latest of which is the recently released Dreamchild. Dahl teaches at Copenhagen's Rhythmic Music Conservatory and has a quartet, The Carsten Dahl Experience, with bassist Nils Bo Davidsen, saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen and drummer Stefan Pasborg.

In a short span of time he spoke about the making of Dreamchild, touched upon the repercussions of bright and dark life experiences on music, memory and childhood imagination, the effects of surrounding sounds, bird songs and the breaking down/rebuilding of the big perfected sound machine of the modern piano.

The day ended with two different trios at the ILK venue: the Simon Toldam Trio and a trio featuring guitarist Mark Solborg. Solborg performed with the great saxophonist Lotte Anker
Lotte Anker
Lotte Anker
b.1958
saxophone
and a young Argentinian cellist, Ceci Quinteros. ILK has just released Solborg's latest album, On Dog (2013)—a brass plus guitar affair with the three Italians—Piero Bittolo Bon (alto saxophone, bass clarinet), Francesco Bigoni (tenor saxophone, bass clarinet), and Beppe Scardino (baritone saxophone), with Marc Lohr on drums.

In the case of the Toldam/Davidsen/Bruun trio, it was a question of which path was taken when and by which member. There was no dominance or dependence to sense amongst their interplay. Their modus operandi, albeit serious, is understated rather than overstated. On a firm musical ground of their own they set out, alert and keen, on undiscovered, unexplored elements and passages. Subdued or enthusiastically the trio remained playful all throughout, with an audience staying, eager and receptive, until the very end.

Guitarist Solborg is clearly an ensemble-oriented musician, never dominating with overpowering or busy guitar sounds. He regularly uses his guitar in a percussive as well as semi-acoustic fashion. It gave a lot of space to Anker and especially Quinteros, who produced piercing and edgy sounds. The ever agile Bruun made it all sound stronger and kept everybody to the basics. Solborg was a fine player capable of accumulating rich layers of impacting sound.

Passing by the Copenhagen Jazz House on the way back to the hotel, there was the chance to take a glimpse of Tim Berne
Tim Berne
Tim Berne
b.1954
saxophone
's Snakeoil, during its second set. Alas, it was not possible to check out the Spacelab of Nikolaj Hess. The same applied to interesting performances at venues like Café Scenen, Christianhavns Beboerhus/Barefoot records, Huset KBH, Koncertkirken, Literaturhus and Betty Nansen Teatret. There simply needs to be more time to get a wider view of the festival.

The festival put a rich and vibrant variety of music on the map and offered Copenhagen musicians great possibilities for exposure, which was a very good thing. It also raised the question of what is going on and happening during the other 355 days of the year in Copenhagen? Is music going on at all these places or even a considerable number of them? Are all these musicians playing there regularly? Does the festival mirror, to a certain extent, the real situation? Copenhagen musicians have to cope with similar problems as their colleagues in London, Oslo, Vienna or Amsterdam, but they have some special anchors on which to rely. The festival followed a multilateral proactive strategy by building alliances first with Berlin, London and Rochester. It was a complex process that provided opportunities for musicians—but no guarantees.

It would be premature to draw a conclusion or to report clear trends. Danish jazz has redefined its traditional American connections and built up new North American musical relationship of its own kind. It has also developed its very own style-independent openness and flexibility that helps to shape new independent sonic contours. Sound exploration apparently plays an important role in the creative process, together with its very own approach to density reduction and gaining clarity.

Photo Credit

All Photos: Henning Bolte

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