The Copenhagen Jazz Festival does not just span the city, it takes it over. From venues large to small with jazz starting at 10:30am and going into late night, the jazz festival convincingly makes the Danish capital New York-like for ten days with its overwhelming concert schedule. And much like New York city, it wasn't too difficult to catch at minimum 3-4 shows each day for the week and a half of the Festival.
Inaugurated in 1979, this year's edition tallied nearly 1,000 concerts in 100 venues from the city's regular jazz haunts (Copenhagen JazzHouse, La Fontaine, Huset) to cafes and many non-jazz associated venues presenting live music during the Festival. The idea and hope - to encourage these places to present jazz to some extent during non-Festival months. The reality - the city becomes an epicenter of jazz for its 10 days featuring much great local, European, American, and international jazz talent to an extreme, leaving the rest of the year rather up in the air and - in essence - quiet in comparison. The commendable programming end-result, however, evenly mixed local legends (violinist Svend Asmussen) with young Danish jazz stars (pianist Jacob Anderskov, saxophonist Lotte Anker, vocalist Caecilie Norby) and international talent hailing from America (pianists Brad Mehldau and Robert Glasper, and guitarists Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny,) to France (multi-instrumentalist Michel Portal and accordionist Richard Galliano), Ukrania (Mikhail Rudy, pianist Misha Alperin) to Australia (vocalist Julie O'Hara). And unlike American and international counterparts which feel the need to include pop, R&B and other non-jazz headliners to sell tickets - most performances at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival all fit into the "jazz" realm. And with punctual start and stop times, rarely a set extending over an hour as if each set was being treated like an album (more lp-length versus CD-length if you will), focused and absorbing listening experiences were plentiful.
Though the first night featured the questionable and disappointing new group of Herbie Hancock, the Festival could and did only improve. Other than brief precipitation that offered a much needed cooling of the warmer than usual temperatures, conditions were ideal for the many outdoor concerts in particular, including in many of the city's more popular squares, concerts along the waterfront, as well as for the several New Orleans- style marching bands that zigzagged through the cobblestone streets such as the Orion Jazz Band which, if you weren't following them, they and their music followed you (led by the great Danish trombonist Ole Lindgren). You couldn't escape jazz even if you tried, but what would be the point of trying if you were in Copenhagen during its annual jazz festival, with music resonating down many of the main thoroughfares and sidestreets for tourists that came from all corners of the globe coming especially for the festival, and for the locals alike.
Of local legends, the 90-years old violinist Svend Asmussen - the finest living jazz violinist and arguably one of the three greatest ever - was the festival's apex at Tivoli Gardens the penultimate night. Asmussen's playing was lucid as was his onstage banter. From the opener ("Bye Bye Blackbird") to the second set's closer ("Blue Skies"), the violinist was in good spirits, his longtime quartet - Jacob Fischer (guitar), Jesper Lundgaard (bass) and Aage Tanggaard (drums) - providing ideal foundation for inspiring improvisational interplay. " Take Off Blues" showcased Asmussen's virtuosic strumming and plucking techniques, holding the violin as if a ukulele, playing it as if a bottleneck guitar. His swinging rendition of Fletcher Henderson's "Wrappin' It Up" (originally recorded only a year after Asmussen's 1933 professional debut Copenhagen concert) was a festival highlight. Asmussen entertained always with a tasteful sense of humor, relaxed and natural in his delivery with no detectable arthritis or stiffness, and received nonstop thunderous applause and smiles from one end of the hall to the next. Appropriately, his was the first of the ten Festival concerts to sell out prior (others included those by Hancock, Sergio Mendes, the Gotan Project, Salif Keita, and the Jack DeJohnette-John Scofield-Larry Goldings cooperative Trio Beyond tribute to Tony Williams' Lifetime), though each concert attended by this reviewer by showtime was quite literally packed to the hilt regardless.
Other unforgettable highlights came from many mid 50- to mid 60-year old Danish jazz veterans, most of who performed on numerous occasions throughout the festival. Guitarist Pierre Dorge's New Jungle Orchestra played an evening-time outdoors concert at the Islands Brygge. Even with it's 8 o'clock start it seemed more of an afternoon concert (the sun doesn't go down until a good two hours later this time of year in Scandinavia) while sitting along the beautiful waterway with a view of the sun eventually setting in the direction of the city's skyline towards the concert's end.
Water-bound onlooker for Pierre Dorge
The lively mix of guitar, bass clarinet, trombone, saxophones, trumpet, percussion, deep acoustic bass, keyboards, occasional vocals by special guest Aida Nadeem, etc. lends itself to such outdoor presentation (though strangely only a few in sight were up and dancing with most others intently listening and taking in the view and sounds). This veteran Danish ensemble is similar to what Boston's Either/Orchestra (E/O) musically stands for: continuous rhythmic shifts, endless colors provided by all members and off the wall improvs over and under an established groove (from trumpet splatters to high pitched Klezmer-influenced clarinet cries to mouthpiece duck calls). As a matter of fact the two bands would make a great double bill.
Bassists Bo Stief, Mads Vinding and Hugo Rasmussen showcased their diverse takes on the well-documented Danish bass tradition (made known internationally by the late Niels- Henning Orsted Pedersen).
Stief played with fellow Dane trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg as well as with his One Song III group (a trio with pianist/accordionist Paolo Russo and accordionist Lelo Nika - one of several accordion-heavy featured groups at this year's Festival). Rasmussen's Allstarz performed rollicking and packed sets at the Knitting Factory-like multi-floored Huset as well as at Kulturhuset's waterfront Island Brygge. His musically and visually memorable duo with tenor man Jakob Dinesen (who played the night previous with one time Fela Kuti drummer/musical director Tony Allen) at the latter venue's "Jazz for Kids" morning series had several hundred kids and parents dancing, a few dozen joining the musicians onstage. One little girl led others into a strutting walk- like-an-Egyptian dance for the near 10-minute duration of "Caravan", a promising sight to behold for the country's next generation! It's no wonder where the saying "childlike abandon" comes from.