Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2010
Fun isn't usually a word associated with the avant-garde and while the concerts held at the beautiful Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) didn't convey fun in the rigid sense of the word, they surely showed musicians engaged in the joyful art of tight musical communication and, another thing, which didn't make them less attractive for the Danish as well as the foreign audience: They were completely free of charge.
Like his cousin, drummer Kresten Osgood, pianist Soren Kjaergaard is always involved in a lot of projects during the festival. At Statens Museum for Kunst he played in an exciting new trio with saxophonist Torben Snekkestad and drummer Thomas Stronen called The Living Room. Together the three muscians formed a rich tapestry of sound that took advantage of silence and space. Kjærgaard used a wide variety of effects, ranging from intense outbursts and semi-classical ornaments to strange sounds coming from his prepared piano, while Snekkestad's saxophone kept drifting in and out, sometimes crying, other times merely whispering. Using all aspects of his drumkit, Thomas Strönen wasn't so much a timekeeper in the traditional sense, but rather another colorist, using a broad spectrum of sources to make the drums chime, screech and scream. Fragments of melodies surfaced throughout the concert, but it was more about the process of playing instead of resorting to instantly recognizeable melodic patterns. What emerged, then, was a cool abstract lyricism that revealed the Nordic heritage of the players while also putting the music into a larger framework of modern composition practised by the likes of John Cage and Morton Feldman.
A far more passionate approach to the avant-garde- aesthetic than the cool lyricism of The Living Room was given by the constellation of pianist Marilyn Crispell, saxophonist Lotte Anker and bassist Jöelle Léandre. Especially Léandre caressed and attacked her bass, moaning and chanting in controlled excess while Anker's saxophone lines punctuated and supported the rhythms and sounds made by Léandre and Crispell. Crispell was definitely the most subdued of the three, more impressionistic than expressionistic in her playing. Together the three musicians achieved a perfect balance between cold and hot, improvisation and composition.
A decidedly more melodic excursion into avant-garde territory was given by Danish guitarist Hasse Poulsen who, together with his group Das Kapital, consisting of saxophonist Daniel Erdmann and drummer Edward Perraud, explored the oddball repertoire of Austrian composer Hanns Eisler whose strange mix of cabaret, folklore, marching music and socialist aesthetics received a deadpan-treatment by the improvising iconoclasts.
In the optics of Das Kapital, the song "Ohne kapitalisten gehts besser" ("Without capitalists it will be better") was transformed into a surreal waltz with Erdmann's dry saxophone and Poulsen's guitar pyrotechnics. Elsewhere, the haunting "An den deutchen mond" ("To the german moon") gave a fine example of the group's ability to delve into more lyrical territory without ironic distance. Hasse Poulsen is known as a guitarist in the tradition of Derek Bailey and while he certainly showed aspects of his less than orthodox way of getting sound out of the guitar, for most of the time his effects were surprisingly straight, using catchy riffs, fingerpicking, power chords and chucking rhythms as his vehicles. The result was an engaging, but also challenging concert which found beauty in the strangest of material. Eisler may be a novelty today, but in Das Kapital the best aspects of his music lives on.