2008 Copenhagen Jazz Festival

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2008 Copenhagen Jazz Festival
Copenhagen, Denmark
July 4th-13th, 2008
Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival is a model of excellence for jazz festivals worldwide. From July 4th-13th, the Danish capital was the scene of 900+ music events at over 100 venues, from countless outdoor concerts in public squares, parks and along the waterfront to a vast array of bars, clubs and concert halls across the city. And though quantity doesn't always necessarily mean quality, Scandinavia—and particularly Denmark—has some of the strongest jazz musicians in the world today, a fact the festival exploited in addition to spotlighting a countless number of musicians from countries close by like Sweden, Finland and Norway.

Copenhagen, like New York, is a very easy city to navigate and come jazz festival season it's particularly advantageous to join the locals on pedals. Bicycles seem to be the preferred mode of transportation especially if one is to take full advantage of the festival. Being able to catch over seven sets of jazz music each day is a phenomena typically associated with New York City, and downtown Copenhagen is eerily West Village-like during Festival season with clubs like La Fontaine, Huset (with its Knitting Factory- like layout of multiple performance spaces under the same roof) and ten other venues in such close proximity to one another.

A particularly strong showing of young Danish pianists appeared with frequency this year including Jacob Anderskov (who played in almost 20 different contexts, over half of them as leader), Simon Toldam and Soren Kjaergaard. All three performed at the Trinitatis Kirkeplads free outdoors afternoon solo piano series, and though each brought their distinct and dynamic approaches to their respective performances which may have been better suited to a concert hall setting, the music translated surprisingly well in the long rectangular outside space. Kjaergaard (who only had previously done two or three prior solo concerts) played primarily in stream of consciousness mode, connecting themes and becoming more introspective than demonstrative as his set progressed, playing Randy Weston-like left-hand bass rumblings.

Without relying on the predominant African rhythmic bass figures, he rather used them as a springboard into his extended performance that became soothing, beautiful, hypnotic, meditative, flowing, transporting and demanding as much on musician as listener. The 40+ minute first portion of the set came off as complex intimate piano exercises as if he had invited the audience into his living room. For his second near 10-minute piece, he played more staccato in comparison, his humming lending an emotional and extra musical weight, subtle enough without becoming a distraction. His closing improvisation turned into one of the most memorable of this year's festival as he suddenly was accompanied by and battled with the minutes-long 5 o'clock church tower bells just above him, which he turned the tables on at a point by accompanying the bells' tones! Without pause it was seemingly Kjaergaard who instigated the interaction, as if he knew exactly what time it was seconds before the clock struck five.

The loud resonating chimes of the church bell became a living, breathing musician and of course the timekeeper of the two. It was a fabulous musical discussion and added a nice interactive element from the otherwise solid solo set. And as Kjaergaard was running off to two more gigs that evening (typical), he humored to me—"(I was) saved by the bell!"

Kjaergaard also played as a member of saxophonist Michael Blake's Blake Tartare, a Danish group excepting its saxophone-playing Canadian-born leader and longtime New York resident. Along with the ever-busy bassist and drummer, Jonas Westergaard and Kresten Osgood, Blake Tartare for its first of two sets at the outdoor Frue Plads also invited Kasper Tranberg (trumpet), Peter Fulsang (clarinet/bass clarinet), and two string players: Kristian Jorgensen (violin) and Henrik Dam Thomsen (cello).

The outdoor venue had most folks sitting rather uncomfortably on the cobblestone street, but the music more than made up for the rear discomfort. Kjaergaard switched between acoustic piano to electric keyboards comfortably, while Blake played both tenor and soprano saxophones separately and together ala Rahsaan Roland Kirk. However, it was another tenor/soprano saxophonist Lucky Thompson that Blake took inspiration from in an ongoing project of his which has recently materialized into a new recording—The World Awakes: A Tribute to Lucky Thompson (Stunt). From perhaps one of Thompson's better-known and classic albums, Lucky Strikes (Prestige, 1964), Blake re-arranged two Lucky originals included in his group's repertoire, breathing new life into each "Reminiscent" and "Mumba Neua." And his incorporation of the classical element with violin and cello came off as much more successful than the high-profile billing of Wayne Shorter and Imani Winds who had played the day previous. Blake's arrangements and incorporation of strings never compromised the music's intensity, but rather added onto it as the timing and placing in his arrangements and incorporation of the strings wasn't simply a matter of finding a comfortable middle ground. In addition to Thompson's "To You Dear One," the group played "Lucky Charms" with the full ensemble, the strings given appropriate complementing voicing on this slower tempo Thompson tune.

It must be mentioned that the Danes have a well-documented tradition of appreciating a good tenor when they hear one, whether it's from an American expatriate like Dexter Gordon from decades past, or local legends like the late Bent Jaedig. This said, it hasn't taken too much convincing for them to have accepted Blake as one of their own; Copenhagen has in essence become a home away from home for him. His highly personable approach to the instrument, at times breath-heavy and always warm with a bop- rooted swing and swagger, is something you just can't help but to connect to. He is also a master of tongueing multi-tones and is an expert of his horn's altissimo range.

For the band's second set, they stripped the extra parts down to their quartet foundation, which to quote the leader, features "music from Blake Tartare's most recent world tour... of Rochester and Vancouver. It's a small world!'' Things loosened mightily, culminating in a group and audience chant of "I'm A Fool for You" that seemed to last well over ten minutes and caught Osgood almost losing his untied shorts on stage while swaying and singing!

Back at Trinitatis Kirkeplads, a new revelation of other more welcomed sorts in shorts—Simon Toldam exuded resonating chords and dark clusters for his solo concert. Boisterous staccato configurations one moment, impressionistic and more gentle lines the next, Toldam proved to be a patient player allowing the music to naturally come to him with at times lengthy but intentional and ever-musical pauses. A member of Dutch drumming legend Han Bennink's newly formed trio, he surely won't be an unknown on the international jazz landscape for much longer.

Jacob Anderskov's solo concert, as was the case with Toldam's, endured threatening sprinkles, but the potential rainstorm fortunately gave way to hazy sunshine. These two extremes of Mother Nature conveniently, perhaps even intentionally, entered Anderskov's improvisations. Able to maintain a line, thought and thread for prolonged periods, the pianist subtly though strategically developed his compositional-like improvisation. The pianist often left firefly-like trails that served as aids, notes lingering long enough to serve as a lifeline for even the least adventurous listeners in attendance. Wayne Shorter once said, "Composition is improvisation in slow motion; improvisation is composition in fast motion." An apt description that sums up Anderskov's musicianship, nearly to tee.

The pianist's larger ensemble—The Anderskov Accident—performed at Pumpehuset, another in the plethora of free outdoor concerts, and featured many mainstays from the Danish jazz scene including Kasper Tranberg (trumpet), Laura Toxvaard and Ned Ferm (saxophones). The powerful and effective 5- person horn section of the group provided an ideal canvas for Anderskov to orchestrate his masterful multi- textural voicings in slow moving layers for individual or collective soloing that ranged from two to all five simultaneously harmonically or atonally blowing. The pianist's acoustic trio concert (with bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Peter Nilsson) at Christianshavns Beboerhus marked at least his third gig that day. A few hours earlier, he had engaged in a one-on-one interview with pianist Paul Bley at the Politikens Hus, explaining his spontaneous decision to perform several Bley-associated compositions (Paul Bley of course has history with Ornette well before The Shape of Jazz to Come): a mesmerizing rendition of Carla Bley's "Ida Lupino" and Ornette Coleman's "Turnaround." In all cases, the musicians were empathetic, working as one and exploratory in every sense. Anderskov would commonly initiate momentum surges with working simultaneous alternating lines, with full comfort in knowing his bandmates were right with him and ready for any sudden changes of direction.

And speaking of Paul Bley, he with drummer Kresten Osgood performed in a highly anticipated concert of solos and duos at Skuespilhuset (The Royal Danish Playhouse), a stunning new waterfront venue that is host to three concert halls (for this concert, the largest of the three which holds approximately 650 capacity was utilized). It was unclear going into the concert how the solos and duos would be programmed, as originally it was rumored that two sets would be performed, one with Bley solo and the other duo. But at showtime Bley evidently and spontaneously decided to do a single long duo set and mix things up without any formal separation of the solo and duo portions. What can commonly become a downfall in these types of concerts is the impression that there are two distinct performances taking place that never run parallel, let alone intersect. Though this was not the case here, as Osgood was basically fixated on Bley's every move, it was still hard to call this event an actual collaboration.

Perched high on a piano stool which itself was on a platform, Bley sat well over the level of the keys, making him look like the giant he is musically. His melodic approach never goes quite where you expect it to, making him an unpredictable and intriguing listen on any occasion. Bley may at first be very lyrical, almost overly so—as on the concert's opening improvisation—but one immediately got the feeling that he might as well have been playing solo once the concert started.

Osgood consistently played off of what Bley offered him, which was little at best. The drummer did try to instigate some interaction as hard as it may have been since his partner wasn't throwing out too many rhythmic bones per se for him to bounce his ideas off of. At just over half an hour into the set, however, Bley left melody and any steady rhythm altogether out of his playing and atonally attacked the keys, something that was long overdue or at least what listeners had been salivating for. Unfortunately it ended almost as soon as it began, lasting but a minute. Osgood responded by taking the palm of his hand and subtly squeaked a solo over his snare, abruptly pouncing a final beat with such volume that he noticeably startled several listening neighbors who had since been lulled. Osgood, a master of coordinating such collaborations with legendary jazz musicians (e.g. Dr. Lonnie Smith, Oliver Lake, John Tchicai, Sam Rivers; his recent CD release with Bley is entitled Florida on the Danish Ilk Music label by the way) was noticeably not in his customary jovial mood.


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