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Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2014

Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2014
Henning Bolte By

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Copenhagen Jazz Festival
Copenhagen
July, 8-10, 2014

The ten-day Copenhagen Jazz Festival, with its 1,200 concerts, is maybe the largest of its kind in Europe. This number of concerts is the consequence of a unique concept. The core of the festival, with some international headliners, is a relatively small scale affair but there is a huge, still growing amount of associated venues (this year, 14 more) doing their own programming. All are coordinated and communicated by the central office of the core festival. Here the publicity before, during and after the festival is done, including responsibility for the festival app. Besides that there are also a couple of satellite/off-festivals. This is a very brief description of an extended complex network of actors and organizations.

For Danish musicians, this kind of setup and organization offers lots of possibilities to play and perform as part of the festival, as well as providing opportunities to team up with both American and other European musicians. Consequently, Danish musician do a fairly high number of gigs, spread throughout town, during these ten days. Often, they even play a number of venues in a single day, the logistics all self-organized—on bikes, in many cases.

As a visitor, you have to make choices in advance: for a certain period; for certain musicians or groups; for a certain area; the venue; the kind of music; or some combination of all these criteria. The festival app is useful, but notwithstanding you have to take good notice of Copenhagen's topography before starting. Staying in a certain area gives visitors the possibility of gaining an intimate acquaintance with summery life in town, and after returning a few times, you will become familiar with Copenhagen. Whatever choice one makes as a foreign visitor, it is advisable to rent a bike. It is the best way to move from one place to another, and Copenhagen is a distinctive, bike-friendly city. As a returning visitor you can go on to discover unknown parts and corners. This year it was places spread over the city: KoncertKirken, in the northern Nørrebro district; Kvarterhuset, in the eastern Amagerbro district, situated near the seaside; KB 18 at Kødbyen, the meatpacking district near central station; and the Betty Hansen Theatre in Frederiksberg. Frederiksberg is a special case. De facto, it appears as a district of Copenhagen, but formally it is a separate entity, a municipality of its own with nearly 103,000 inhabitants encapsulated by Copenhagen.

Three days of the festival were covered and concerts by six groups at various locations were attended: an ensemble around the famous Danish recorder player Michala Petri at Betty Hansen Theatre; Jakob Bro/Thomas Knak, with bassist Thomas Morgan and vj Sune Blicher at KB 18; two groups at KoncertKirken in Nørrebro (a duo with Johanna Borchert and Maria Laurette Friis, and a trio featuring pianist Jakob Anderskov, bassist Nils Davidsen and American drummer Tyshawn Sorey; American pianist Aaron Parks' trio, in Amagerbro; and the odd Danish unit Frisk Frugt at Frederiksberg Have, Frederiksberg's vast and wonderful park.

Summer Jazz Valby

Due to short-term decisions, this year's route started with a new and largely unknown entity: a concert at Betty Nansen Theatre with Michala Petri. Starting at Frederiksberg's Betty Nansen Theatre meant a double speciality, and not only the peculiarity of Frederiksberg. The concert at the theatre was part of Summer Jazz Valby, which is an independent jazz festival taking place during the same period as the overall Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Both are, at best, loosely connected. Valby is a southwestern suburban district of Copenhagen, with an air of "outside" and "independence." In the past, Valby housed the big Carlsberg brewery, the cotton industry and film studios. With the redevelopment of the brewery and other industrial areas into a new, lively and high-density neighborhood, Valby is now one of the city's areas with the fastest growing population.

Summer Jazz Valby, organized by Cowbell Productions, started in 2009 with Danish saxophonist Benjamin Koppel and American pianist Kenny Werner as artistic directors. Cowbell also has a record label that documents the productions of its festival artists. Cowbell is a young small-scale organization that is highly motivated, professional, straightforward, caring and clear, with supportive communication.

The concerts took place at two locations: the Betty Nansen Theatre in Frederiksberg; and at Prøvehallen, a new cultural centre in the Valby district. The festival's programming has, thus far, relied on reputable names like Jim Hall, Joe Lovano, John Abercrombie, Uri Caine, Brian Blade, Miroslav Vitous, Audun Kleive, Markus Stockhausen and Chris Potter. Just two days before, a concert with Danilo Pérez's Children Of The Light Trio, with John Patitucci and Brian Blade, had taken place, and one evening later people experienced the new trio of Benjamin Koppel, Scott Colley and Brian Blade at Betty Nansen Theatre. Hence, the meeting with artistic director Benjamin Koppel and bassist Scott Colley, who were both involved in the project with Michala Petri, not only touched upon the festival's spirit and the Petri project, but also went about introducing a new trio that was about to record an album under the wings of the artistshare label.

The programs of Summer Jazz presented existing groups as well as special festival (re)combinations and projects. The Cowbell ensemble gathered around Michala Petri was a good example of a genre-crossing recombination. The ensemble consisted of pianist Carsten Dahl, bassist Scott Colley, saxophonist Benjamin Koppel, cellist Henrik Dam Thomsen (soloist from the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra) and percussionist John Hadfield. Incidentally, Benjamin, in addition to alto saxophone, also played the mezzosopran horn—the only artist doing so in jazz until Joe Lovano met him and picked up the instrument as well.

The concert, taking place on a Tuesday evening, was almost sold out. It started with a loose "Meet The Artist" talk (in Danish), with much laughing among the musicians and consequently picked up by the audience. These loosening up talks were considered an important element of the festival, as were the master classes held by visiting musicians.

World-famous, Petri is the most outstanding Danish recorder player covering a broad spectrum of classical and contemporary music, including—as in this case—improvised music. Recently recording Going To Pieces Without Falling Apart with renowned Danish jazz trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, the sound she produced on her instrument was simply amazing: concurrently airy, ethereal and solid, firm and gripping, with a Far Eastern tinge. Nevertheless, a lineup such as hers could have evoked scepticism—especially for those unfamiliar with it. It all started out very cautiously and seemingly conventional. With great musical care, however, the musicians attuned and shaped confluences and contrasts of their respective instruments' sounds. It was wondrous and exciting how Petri took increasing initiative, and how the whole became more and more liberated as Petri, changing between different types of recorders, became increasingly daring. In the long run it was just amazing how she centred the music with the voice of her instrument, amidst lots of luscious interactions between the other musicians.

The concert gave a strong impression of the festival's ambition, reach and actualization. Summer Jazz and Cowbell turned out as a good example of the viability of a small but high quality event, distinguished in a communal context on the urban periphery. It also demonstrated that large scale events do not automatically have to lead to fuzziness and flattening out of quality. All good reasons to further explore the festival.

Kødbyen

Kødbyen, Copenhagen's old meatpacking district near the central train station, is a vast area which partly has been transformed and is still functioning, in part, as it always has. Numerous venues of different size are located in that area, amongst them the venue of the ILK-collective. KB 18 is another one that is hard to find, on the outer rear side—a dark, gloomy vault with a small, poorly visible stage in front. Here, guitarist Jakob Bro and Thomas Knak (aka dj Opiate) played, featuring bassist Thomas Morgan and vj Sune Blicher. It was the most basic lineup of Bro's 2012 double album, Bro/Knak, on which Knak electronically rebuilt Bro's pieces that featured, amongst others, Paul Bley, Kenny Wheeler, Bill Frisell, Oscar Noriega and David Virelles.

The venue was packed, but there was a mismatch of the location's space, the music and the light wiping out the possible impact of it all to a large extent. Maybe, from certain angles of the vault, a better match could be made with the audience, who did not seem unsatisfied at the end. Two days later, Bro's trio with Thomas Morgan and Norwegian drum legend Jon Christensen would perform at a bigger, more conventional venue, with trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg guesting. The trio's first album, recorded in Oslo, will be released on ECM early next year.

Norrebrø, KoncertKirken

Koncertkirken is situated in outer Nørrebro just beyond Dronning Louise's Bro (Queen Louise's Bridge), on the left side at Blågårdsgade/Blågårdsplads. Dronning Louise's Bro connects the inner city and Norrebrø, is frequented by lots of cyclists and pedestrians, and is a quite popular hangout on summer evenings. Nørrebro is Copenhagen's most vibrant, colourful, casual and young-at-heart neighborhood, with places like Blågårdsgade, Elmegade or Jægersborggade. To get to these kinds of venues you must become immersed in the street life of the city's neighborhoods.

KoncertKirken is a concert venue that presents a great variety of music and has its own programming during the jazz festival. The first concert attended was the female duo of German pianist Johanna Borchert and Danish vocalist/pianist Maria Laurette Friis. Borchert had performed a few days earlier at Copenhagen's Jazzhouse venue with her new Wayside-Wayfarer group, comprised of Fred Frith, Shazad Ismaily, Julius Sartorius and the leader, also as vocalist. The group's first album, Desert Road, is due to be released in October. Friis had performed a few days prior at the same venue in a duo with Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus. She is hard to pinpoint, having worked with the likes of Jason Moran, Thomas Morgan, Eivind Lønning and Pamelia Kurstin. n this evening, the duo played a freely improvised set. It was increasingly fascinating how, during its performance, odd and ugly sounds were transfigured into pure beauty. Whereas Borchert mostly worked inside the piano with various devices including a cord used to induce (very) strong resonances, Friis employed a peculiar installation of a Korg synthesizer, electronics, a harpsichord and, occasionally, a recorder. What seemed a bit esoteric at first sight was ultimately revealed as a strong interaction, producing a very special kind of coherence—clearly sensed but not caught—which was inherent in their magical trip through unheard sounds.

The next day, at KoncertKirken, a special trio of two Danes—pianist Jakob Anderskov and bassist Nils Davidsen—in collaboration with American drummer Tyshawn Sorey played its second concert during the festival. Davidsen recently released an extraordinary solo album on the ILK Music imprint, and has already recorded a followup. He is a strong, versatile player from the famous Danish lineage of bassists, and is involved in many outstanding Danish groups. Anderskov is one of the most accomplished pianist of the middle generation. He received a 2013 Danish Grammy for composition. Sorey—drummer, trombonist and composer—has worked and recorded with, amongst others, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Steve Coleman and Steve Lehman, which gives a clear indication of his propensity. Last year, he held a two-month residency in Denmark that, this year, was succeeded by Aaron Parks.

The unit's performance was one of those performances where something real happened in full scale and something powerful found its energy and form. At certain moments during the performance, the musicians could be seen looking up to the ceiling or looking down to the ground, as if gazing at what was in the air, what was rising up from the ground, and what they might receive. Out of each of those moments something thrilling burst out and a mighty groove or chant—of a quality that would never be accomplished if played out straight—emerged. It was one of those performances where every musician reached a higher level, outperforming himself. Crossing wild tonal areas with emerging views of undisguised beauty, the music travelled along steep abysses, conjuring big waves of air and wondrous glow. The trio's last piece, with a long dramatic intro by Anderskov, led into a dark, gospel-like night chant. The musicians were utterly happy that this time they had decided to record the performance.

Kvarterhuset, Amagerbro

The night before, together with fellow American Thomas Morgan, Sorey played in Aaron Parks' trio in a different area of Copenhagen. That appearance was a horse of a different color. Parks had just finished playing at Kulturhuset Islands Brygge with Joshua Redman's quartet, and had to hurry to the nearby Amagerbro neighborhood to play with his own trio for a program of mainly American standards and pieces by American trio masters like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. Flying changes like that are typical of the Copenhagen festival, though Parks was an especially busy man during the festival's ten days due to his ten-week Danish DIVA (Danish International Visiting Artists program) residency.

The DIVA program, administered by the country's National Arts Council, is an artist-in-residence program used to develop various Danish art scenes through dialog and collaboration between foreign and Danish artists. The program enables art and cultural institutions, municipalities and other professionals in the field to invite foreign artists and groups to reside in Denmark for a longer period—typically between one and three months. Over the last four years, Jazz Danmark has invited Andrew D'Angelo, Bill McHenry, Rakalam Bob Moses and Tyshawn Sorey for residencies, followed up by Parks this year. There are various negotiable possibilities for Danish musicians—from workshops to recordings—to collaborate with the artist-in-residence. Normally a musician is chosen who already has strong ties with the Danish scene, as is the case with Parks.

Sticking more or less to canonical pieces of the American piano trio legacy, the pianist added new, enriching colors to them, performing with an attitude quite different from his famous predecessors—quite talkative and constantly seeking eye contact with his audience. Parks and Morgan complemented each other in subtle, shinning ways, whereas Sorey was the loosening man, lifting the music out of its holder at times. It was a nice game to watch, with airy results. Altogether, it made for a highly pleasurable concert.

Haveselskabets Have, Frederiksberg

Frisk Frugt (Fresh Fruit) is multi-instrumentalist Anders Lauge Meldgaards, on this occasion "assisted" by a ten-piece ensemble that, a special affair, constantly disturbed and delighted its audience. Meldgaars seems to be the very much-loved naughty boy of Danish musical life, playing acoustic guitar and soprano saxophone, but also using toy instruments, typewriters, homemade flute organ, and a diversity of utensils and plants with contact microphones; one of the four main forces in the benchmark Copenhagen music collective Yoyooyoy, his Danish Top Meetings Burkina Faso In The Sky Room Where the Sun Lives Suite (2011) was nominated for the Nordic Music Prize.

Meldgaards started with some kind of seemingly naïve Danish singing, accompanying himself on a tattered acoustic guitar and producing music from somewhere at the crossroad of Tom Zé and Tiny Tim. It all sounded very Danish, but in an estranged way. When the ensemble entered, it became clearer yet, at the same time, it was blurred again: Steve Reichian minimalism that sounded like oompah music, with other hybrids and syncretisms of highly disparate elements occurring. It was an approach that made it difficult to discern between intended infelicities and failures, the performance leaving the impression that there was a lot of potential, but that the ensemble was not yet fully on-track.

Conclusion

This year's Copenhagen festival route started and finished in Frederiksberg, strictly speaking outside the city—a (too) short trip with lots of promising things that had to be missed. Again, it became clear that it was a real city life thing. Not only with concerts, moving between different parts of town and enjoying some of the outstanding Copenhagen cuisine, but further enriched by lots of meetings, intended and unintended, with people from the field: colleagues, musicians, friends and other Copenhagen residents. A lot happened that is not reported here in detail, but will certainly have longer term impact. There are enough still unknown and worthwhile places to discover and sort out in Copenhagen in the coming years,

Photo Credit: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen, Jazz.dk

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