Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2009
Lateef has always been a musician that has broken down boundaries between East and West, avant-garde and popular culture. His music is carried by a deep spiritual understanding of life that gives his music an unshakable depth. While it was clear to see and hear that he is coming towards the end of his life's journey, he still plays with the soul and conviction of a true artist. The meeting between the old master and the young talented generation of Danish musicians, Osgood and Tranberg, underlined the ability of music to communicate beyond age and nationality. The music was simply about reaching into the human condition.
The concert was played as one continuous suite where the polyphonic use of instruments, combined with recurrent melodic motives, gave the expression of a meditative music in motion. Percussionist Adam Rudolph particularly added a variety of musical colors, using a frame drum, flutes and congas. Lateef also played on a variety of instruments, giving the music a rich texture. However, the most pregnant instrument was still the saxophone, but his soulful chant and poignant piano also gave the music a strong spiritual vibe. As a whole, the concert became a work of art comparable to Pharoah Sanders' Karma (Impulse! 1969). Balancing on the edge between life and death, form and chaos, it was a beautiful, life-affirming experience.
While the concert with Yusef Leteef was a testimony to the artistic strength of a living legend, the concert with trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg revisiting his homage to Miles Davis on the album Aura (Columbia, 1985), had all the spirit of Davis about it because it wasn't a nostalgic view at an old piece, but the revitalization of a work of art. Aura has achieved iconic status in Denmark but it is still one of the most unappreciated works in the canon of Miles Davis. If anything, the concert underlined that it is about time that the album gets its proper due as an important part of not only Mikkelborg's but also Davis' oeuvre.
The concert followed the structure of the album which is a suite with an intro and a division into nine colors: "White," "Yellow," "Orange," "Red," "Green," "Blue," "Electric Red," "Indigo" and "Violet." In terms of style, the music is all over the map. From abstract meditations to neo-classical work with woodwinds, heated funk and world-music, Aura is a work that seems to catch the chameleon-like nature of Davis' artistic personality. More than that, with its eclectic use of genres, it also became a portrait of the jazz scene in Denmark as it is now and a microcosm of the jazz festival. This was emphasized by the fact that the concert brought together all kinds of people, old and young, but, more importantly, there was a meeting between different generations of musicians. Established Danish musicians like Marilyn Mazur, pianist Thomas Clausen and Mikkelborg himself played with the young and talented Blood Sweat Drum 'n' Bass Big Band.
Whether it's Mikkelborg re-interpreting his classic work, Jakob Bro playing old standards with his trio or Kresten Osgood destroying the boundaries between avant-garde and popular culture, it is all about keeping the music fresh and getting a new perspective on the evolving history of jazz.
The name of this year's festival poster, created by the artist Tal R, is named "Jazz Is Not Born Yet" and, in a way, it pretty much sums up the post-modern patchwork nature of this year's festival. It wasn't about propagating a restricted image of jazz, but questioning the idea of what the music is. Is it improvised? Composed? Blues-based? Electronic? Acoustic? Vocal? Instrumental?
Like Samuel Johnson being asked by Boswell what poetry is, it becomes hard to define exactly what jazz is. To quote the famous pair:
Boswell: Then, Sir, what is poetry?
Johnson: Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell what it is.
Coming to the end of the festival, one is, indeed, still struggling to define what jazz is, but what matters in the end is that at this year's Copenhagen Jazz Festival, the light of jazz still shone as bright as ever.