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Various Artists: The Best of Danish Jazz

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The problem with reviewing sampler cds is that usually only one or two tracks at most are selected to represent each artist. Thus it is impossible and unfair to attempt at characterizing each artist or to make valid recommendations (or not) of their music based upon this limited input.

On the other hand, one could review the sampler cd as being supposedly representative of a specific label’s releases. In that light, “The Best of Danish Jazz” could just as easily be entitled “The Best Of Dacapo Jazz”. But since Dacapo concentrates on documenting the output of Danish jazz musicians, this is a moot point.

If you’re a regular reader of AAJ, the Dacapo label should need no introduction to you (eight Dacapo releases have been reviewed in the preceding three months. See list at conclusion of this review for more information). The Dacapo releases have been generally well received and aptly illustrate the depth and breadth of jazz coming out of Denmark.

“The Best of Danish Jazz” (Dacapo DCCD 9439) consists of 15 tracks. Eight of these tracks have been extracted from recordings that have been previously reviewed in AAJ (see asterisked titles below). Hence, this review will exclude those releases from further analysis.

Of the seven remaining tracks, four are from the DRJO (Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra, formerly known as the Danish Radio Big Band). Before proceeding with commentary, it is worthwhile to point out that the liner notes include a brief essay entitled “Denmark’s Cultural Radicals” (authored by Erik Wiedemann) which provides a quick view of the history of jazz in Denmark. The essay refers to a specifically Danish jazz teaching tradition developed in the early ’30’s, one which “satirized school education and the conflict between jazz and classical music.” It is further suggested that the effects of this technique are still felt to this day. If so, then certainly the DRJO represents the culmination of that technique and possibly even resolves the aforementioned conflict. The four tracks are virtually “jazz mini-concertos” as the DRJO provides a foil behind a specific instrumentalist.

The first of these tracks is the disc opener, “Future Child/Elephant March”, which features renowned bassist Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. This track is opted from AMBIANCE (Dacapo DCCD 9417). It begins with a NHOP playing a nimble, melodic solo (unaccompanied) and abruptly moves into a soulful, spiritual, slowly swingin’ march. A grand, ornate parade of the great, gray beasts can be easily imagined in the mind’s eye, with an emphasis on their grace and elegance instead of their sheer mass and ponderousness. Simply a splendid track.

The next DRJO piece is the Duke Ellington tune “Cotton Tail” and is taken from A LITTLE BIT OF DUKE (Dacapo DCCD 9420). The piece is performed with an admirable flourish and is highlighted by a fiery and enthusiastic solo by tenor saxophonist Jesper Thilo. Ellington is rendered with the reverence due a “classical” composer but with an ardor that cannot be matched by the typical symphony orchestra.

The third DRJO cut is a tune by Thad Jones entitled “Ah, Henry” and is excerpted from the DRJO recording of Thad Jones compositions, THE GREAT ONE (Dacapo DCCD 9424). This track is as cool and sedate as “Cotton Tail” was blazing and exhilarating and features an agile flute solo by Jan zum Vohrde. Although significantly more peaceful than the Ellington piece, it is no less confident or self-assured.

The final DRJO track is “After All These Years”, is composed and conducted by Ray Pitts, and is chosen from the DRJO recording of Pitts compositions, THIS TRAIN (Dacapo DCCD 9428). A sleepy, dreamy tune, trombonist Vincent Nilsson contributes a suitably drifting solo. The versatility of the DRJO is well exhibited here when contrasted to the other selections.

The track immediately preceding “After All These Years” is “The Last Kiss” by saxophonist Karsten Vogel (sampled from NORDIC FRAMES, Dacapo DCCD 9418). As the title might suggest, this duet between Vogel and pianist Jorgen Emborg, is pretty, gentle, delicate, and wistfully romantic. However, judging by the fact that nine other musicians appear on this disc (contributing keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums) it is difficult to imagine that this track typifies NORDIC FRAMES.

The most unusual track to be featured is entitled “Jawi” and is from the cd by bassist Peter Danstrup and percussionist Mustapha Baqbou entitled AISHA (Dacapo DCCD 9426), subtitled “A meeting between Moroccan and western music”. This track strays too close to fusion for my tastes (although it should be mentioned that it’s more in the tradition of adventurous fusion ala Brand X or Bill Bruford than the numerous and atrocious “fuzak” bands). Perhaps the best summary is that this track doesn’t make me want to rush out and buy the disc, but it is intriguing enough to make me curious to hear more.

The final track to be reviewed is entitled “Renovation” is composed and conducted by percussionist extraordinaire Marilyn Mazur, and is performed by BIMWO (Brande International Music Workshop Orchestra). This tune is picked from the cd A STORY OF MULTIPLICITY (Dacapo DCCD 9431) and it positively burns! If this portrays a renovation, then the building isn’t just being given a cosmetic enhancement, it’s being completely demolished and rebuilt concurrently. This isn’t to imply that the piece is chaotic, but to convey that it’s kinetic, dynamic, and possesses a nifty groove. White hot solos are traded between sax and trumpet, and later by clarinet and sax while the rhythm section carries the listener on a rollicking headlong ride. More please.

To summarize, based upon this sampler, AAJ readers could spend their hard earned cash in a lot worse places than on Dacapo releases. The Dacapo label must be commended, yet again, for giving exposure to the challenging jazz musicians of Denmark, and for providing diverse and deeply satisfying tunes to a worldwide listening audience.

other Dacapo releases reviewed in AAJ (artist, title, Dacapo cat. no., month of review, reviewer)

Pierre Dorge and New Jungle Orchestra “Giraf” (DCCD 9440, June ‘99, Glenn Astarita)

Kim Kristensen “Pulse Of Time” (DCCD 9435, June ‘99, Allen Huotari)

Pierre Dorge and New Jungle Orchestra “China Jungle” (DCCD 9427, June ‘99, C. Michael Bailey)

Simon Spang-Hanssen and Maneklar “Wondering” (DCCD 9436, May ‘99, Glenn Astarita)

** Svend Asmussen Quartet “Fit As A Fiddle” (DCCD 9429, May ‘99, C. Michael Bailey)

Kenneth Knudsen/Christian Skeel “Music For Eyes” (DCCD 9433, April ‘99, Glenn Astarita)

* Lotte Anker/Copenhagen Art Ensemble “Shape Of Twelve” (DCCD 9430, April ‘99, Allen Huotari)

* Pierre Dorge and New Jungle Orchestra “China Jungle” (DCCD 9427, April ‘99, Glenn Astarita)

** Pierre Dorge and N.J.O. “Music from the Danish Jungle” (DCCD 9423, April ‘99, Glenn Astarita)

* Kenneth Knudsen “Sounds and Silence” (DCCD 9419, April ‘99, Glenn Astarita)

* Ray Anderson “BIMWO Swing” (DCCD 9432, March ‘99, Glenn Astarita)

* = one track included on “The Best of Danish Jazz”

** = two tracks included on “The Best of Danish Jazz”

Record Label: Dacapo Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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