In reviewing a recent album
by the Klüvers Big Band, I noted that Denmark, whose population is less than six million, is home to at least three world-class Jazz orchestras. Make that four.
Natural Connections, the second album by composer/arranger Peter Brem’s state-of-the-art big band, is an electrifying tour de force in which the ensemble puts its best foot forward on nine of the leader’s elaborate compositions and Miles Davis’ “All Blues,” stylishly interpreted by one of the country’s best-known Jazz singers, Marie Bergman. Should a comparison to American ensembles prove useful, I’d say Brem’s eighteen-piece group reminds me most of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, in part because his sophisticated charts reflect the influence of Thad Jones who lived for a number of years in Denmark and recorded with the Danish Radio Big Band (now the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra).
“Teach Me Say Uncle” opens the handsomely recorded studio date in a walking groove whose tight ensemble passages are reinforced by drummer Anders Holm-Jensen, percussionist Thomas Ousager and guitarist Bent Warny, while the perky, quasi-Caribbean “Skaebner i hvidt” features Warny again (Brem uses no piano), alto Ulrik Bencard and bassist Kim Mikkelsen. Flugel Verner Worck is front and center on the shuffling “Fine Mess,” which follows “All Blues,” tenor Ole Kühl on the poignant “No More Ballade.”
“Every Single Step” is a gospel-patterned promenade that encompasses more admirable work by the band’s enterprising rhythm section and perceptive solos by Holm-Jensen and soprano Torben Jensen, “Let’s Waltz” a rhythmic gemstone whose agile soloists are trumpeter Christian Munck and tenor Nikolaj Schneider. Brem swings into a Latin vein for the lively “Forgotten Words” (solos by Warny and baritone Lasse Lavridsen), then shuffles merrily home with “Dingbat” and “Natural Connections,” the former showcasing guitarist Warny and tenor Schneider, the latter alto Bencard, tenor Kühl and bassist Mikkelsen.
Those who routinely characterize the Danes as “melancholy” obviously haven’t heard the Peter Brem Big Band, and need to. Far from being down in the dumps, these Danes are not only cheerful and enthusiastic but remarkably talented as well, fully able to skirmish toe-to-toe with the finest big bands anywhere. If that sounds improbable, listen to Natural Connections and be convinced.
Personnel: Peter Brem, conductor, composer, arranger; Kurt Holm, Klaus Andreasen, Lars Kristensen, Christian Munck, Verner Worck, trumpet; Ulrik Bencard, Torben Jensen, Nikolaj Schneider, Ole K