2008 Copenhagen Jazz Festival

AAJ Staff By

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Three guitarists who impressed at this year's fest were Danes Mark Solborg and Jakob Bro (the latter whose name might ring a bell for some as one of the recent guitarists in drummer Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band), and NYC-based Ryan Blotnick who curated a 3-night multi-ensemble series at the Literaturhaus at which he also performed. In a CD release performance, Bro's trio of Anders Christensen (bass) and Jakob Hoeyer (drums) performed an early afternoon concert at the upstairs space of the KafCafeen. Bro's new CD (Who Said Gay Paree?) may be a sleeper in the best sense, as its primary mode from beginning to end is a masterful subtlety of jazz ballad performances that could easily go ignored or underappreciated by any cursory listen.

Intent listening, however, proves rewarding for those who take the time and effort to appreciate the album's focus, as keen listeners did for the Jakob Bro Trio's live performance. From Harold Arlen and Gershwin to Cole Porter (the CD title track's composer), Bro proved to be a masterful interpreter of standard repertoire without having to resort to the pyrotechnic virtuosity of which he most certainly has at his fingertips. The leader's gentile and lyrical touch on his strings washed over listeners with a hushed intensity while drummer Hoeyer took obvious preference to brushes and mallets lightly bouncing off drums and cymbals so as not to interfere with but rather to complement the relaxing and transfixing mood set by the trio.

Solborg was another local kept busy by countless performances throughout the festival, though it may have been his concert with the group Ventilator featuring Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love at Borups Hojskole that marked a memorable apex of his festival activities. With multi-reed specialist Lovdal again and bassist Mats Eilertsen, the group—equal parts four—performed new original music which Nilssen-Love added a certain looseness, not to mention glue to, particularly after the complex heads and intros to all the intricately composed music. Solborg's raw style of playing served as the antithesis to Bro's approach. Not methodical in exacting fashion, Solborg played charged lines with rough edges that would bend, twang, resonate, distort and certainly engage, as such was the case in the guitarist's original "The Red Bike" (also featuring an excellent Lovdal tenor solo). And his Derek Bailey influence marked "Other Roots," in which the guitarist created sounds as if he were Ikue Mori on laptop before his effects-ridden playing morphed decidedly un-Bailey-esque with atmospherics. Nilssen-Love played sometimes swirling, other times pounding figures and always with a freshness that never resorted to monotony. Solborg's highly structured originals, based around introductory themes, were performed overall with a vitality and urgency that unquestionably made for a memorable set of music.

R> Lotte Anker (alto/tenor/soprano), with a masterful Dopler-like approach on every instrument she performs, played paced long tones that patiently approach as they do soften in volume without a loss of playing and listening intensity. This correspondent was able to catch her live on two of the several more occasions she played during the festival. With Herb Robertson at Literaturhaus in a group called Mokuto, the two horn players revealed to be ideal collaborators; Robertson a hyper-speed player counterbalanced Anker's long paced tones. The other concert was a trio very much in the mold of her keyboards/drums trio with Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver, at the Zum Biergarten. With Rasmus Riis (keyboards) and Brian Agha (drums) instead, the group was additionally supplemented by Kasper Lysemose (bass). Agha rubbed tin can halves while Lysemose incessantly stepped on and played with a plastic wrapper. The ensemble's performances found the leader in an absolutely still playing pose (similar to how saxophonist Fred Anderson miraculously remains motionless while blowing momentous line after line) with a swirling inventive musical landscape created by her and her cohorts.

Other highlights from the near 40 sets of music caught in 5 days time by this correspondent included tenor saxophonist Hans Ulrik who performed a chitlin' circuit-like groovy set with Kjeld Lauritsen's organ trio at La Fontaine (a club much like New York City's own 55Bar in vibe and history). Bassist Eivind Opsvik's first solo bass concert ever, which took place at Literaturhaus, the bassist sounding more like he'd been honing in on this setting for many years. Finish multi-reedman (alto, soprano, baritone, tenor saxophones and flute) and bandleader Mikko Innanen melded Dolphy, Jackie Mac and Ornette into a lively musical stew at Frue Plads. Also at Frue Plads, drummer, multi-percussionist and Miles Davis alum Marilyn Mazur showed off her extravagant set up of various chimes, bells, percussion and drum kit. Mazur also brought to the Huset Salon her United Notions Sax Quartet (Simon Spang-Hanssen on alto and soprano; Anders T. Andersen on soprano and tenor; Emil Hess on soprano, tenor and bass clarinet; Pernille Bevort on baritone, tenor and clarinet), recalling such similar percussion/horns collaborations as the World Sax Quartet with Kahil El'Zabar and Jack DeJohnette. Belgian harmonica virtuoso and pioneer (and living legend) Toots Thielemans played at the outdoor venue Det Kongelige Danske Haveselskab, covering a host of standards ("I Loves You Porgy," "Days of Wine and Roses," etc.) with his quartet.

Italian pianist Stefano Bollani's trio (with Danes in bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Morten Lund) invited trumpeter and one-time boss Enrico Rava at Copenhagen's Jazzhouse, and staged as much intense improvisation as—of course—comedy and showmanship (Bollani is certainly one of jazz' great entertainers in every sense). Joking aside or at least as introduction, the pianist and trumpeter progressed rather than digressed more often than not and revealed a distinguished musical relationship and chemistry in their creative duo interpretation of "Estate" utilizing a particularly effective ultra slow tempo. Bollani can breathe new life into a melody you may have heard hundreds of times previous, a knack for interpretation over regurgitation.

Perhaps this best sums up the Copenhagen Jazz Festival—with its programming that acknowledges this music's history, but showcases it in its glory with interpretation presiding over regurgitation. If you missed out this year, there's always next, and a trip to Copenhagen during festival season can't come more highly recommended.

Photo Credit
All by Laurence Donohue-Greene except:
Wayne Shorter/Danilo Perez by Jan Persson
Ed Thigpen/Kresten Osgood by Jan Persson


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