Jazz in Denmark dates back to the early '20s and the country's freedom, social egalitarianism and support of the arts has attracted generations of musicians to resettle in its artistic center, Copenhagen. Denmark itself, with a population that is a little more than half that of NYC, has also produced jazz musicians of international stature in numbers that belie its size. These include stylists as varied and influential as saxophonist John Tchicai, violinist Svend Asmussen and late bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (NHØP) with his rhythmical partner at the legendary "Montmartre" club, drummer Alex Riel.
Currently, a significant new musical chapter in Danish jazz history is being written by the creative music scene flourishing in Copenhagen. Fed by the contemporary music program at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory (RMC), the best place for a representative sample of this music is ILK Music. Begun in 2001 ILK, an acronym for Independent Label København, as well as an allusion to those sharing similar traits, is a cooperative in the truest sense. It is however through this cooperation that specific artists are able to express their own individuality.
By virtue of their membership in the ILK community, these 18 musicians can release their work without question and take advantage of the creative environment that this arrangement fosters. As guitarist and label co-founder Mark Solborg explains, "ILK is not and could never have been the work of one persona fact that I believe is one of the major strengths of the label... But one thing that I believe all the ILKs have in common is an urge to come up with personal statements. You need to have your own original voice. Also we seem to share a certain very undogmatic attitude towards genres. This passage from our 'manifesto' covers it pretty well: Musical necessity, collective responsibility and inspiration from all past and present genres are key issues, shared by the ILKs."
In the six short years that ILK has been in existence, the breadth and depth of its catalogue that spans some 60 releases is astonishing. This is due to the combined effect of the current creative music climate in Copenhagen and an atmosphere at ILK that promotes individuality through group inspiration. An initial perusal of ILK releases quickly rewards with the work of pianist and composer Jacob Anderskov. Like many ILK artists Anderskov is not only a graduate of the RMC but has also done 'post graduate' work in the rich environs of NYC downtown music. The result is an artist who combines adventurousness with technical excellence and who, akin to a person fluent in several languages, effortlessly pulls phrases from a variety of musico-linguistic quarters.
Anderskov's gorgeously fluid På dansk provides a stunning example of traditional Danish music lovingly examined from a contemporary jazz framework whereas his collaboration with computerist Jacob Riis entitled An Auf (2007) is more an exercise in ambient moods. A by-product of his NYC residency is On the Loose (2004) with bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Anders Morgensen. This is a place where downtown and Denmark become kindred spirits in a celebration of musical freedom. For a bigger band sound, there is the octet Anderskov Accident that uses a quintet of horns to expand on this recurring theme of the gestalt of similarity and difference. Their Unity of Action (2005) is an intricately put together session whose multiple parts gel into a palpable whole.
Part of that whole is the phenomenal altoist Laura Toxvaerd. Her debut solo effort, no. 1 (ILK, 2007), is an exciting breath of fresh air that breaks new ground for the alto saxophone. She explains how her unique vision could have only come to fruition through ILK, "As opposed to the condition of a jazz concert with its transitory improvisation, recorded music is somehow solid and can be manipulated. I wanted my CD to express this difference and I had Frederik Thaae re-arrange my music in his computer. Without ILK I don't think I would have been able to publish my CD. At least it wouldn't have crossed the Atlantic and reached New York."
With four releases on ILK, Søren Kjægaard is another brilliant young pianist whose latest, Keys (2006), is a meeting ground for originality and traditional jazz compositions from the likes of Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and Jerome Kern. In addition, newly composed pieces blend swing and classical artiness into a postmodern approach. Included in the elegant packaging is a mini-CD that contains pieces performed on several singularly-voiced instruments: celeste, harpsichord, glockenspiel and pump organ. Taken together, Kjægaard's creativity, ability to synthesize, youthful curiosity and appreciation for a 'good song' foretell wonderful things.