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Culture Clubs: Part IV: When Jazz Met Europe

Culture Clubs: Part IV: When Jazz Met Europe

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The Geography of Jazz—When Jazz Met Europe

In 2004 Maureen Anderson, a researcher at Illinois State University contributed a dissertation to the journal, African American Review, titled The White Reception of Jazz in America. Ostensibly, her article deals with stories published in high profile periodicals and journals from 1917 and into the 1930s, written by white arts critics and academics, describing jazz in the most hysterical, racist, demeaning and inflammatory terms. A well-known newspaper columnist in the early 1900s, George Ade, went so far as to emphatically state that if the white musician Paul Whiteman were playing jazz, it was "agreeable" music; if a black musician played the same music, it was objectionable noise. Based on the critics of that time, it is difficult to know if the aberrance toward jazz was based on anything more than its African roots. In Western Europe, racial discrimination was less prevalent; reactions to the new music, more thoughtful, balanced and analytical.

Jazz, broadly viewed as a genre that was fully realized in America, had traversed the Atlantic while it was still in its embryonic stage. Innovative rhythms in the form of ragtime, cakewalk, foxtrot and the Charleston entered the lexicon of dance music and many in Europe were electrified at the prospect of a musical revolution. The panic-stricken reaction of numerous conventional classical musicians and patrons—on both sides of the Atlantic—helped fuel a counter-insurgency among open-minded segments of the European population who refused to project the end of an enlightened culture. Well before Louis Armstrong had ushered in the age of modern improvised jazz in the U.S., the music was well on its way to popularity in Europe. At the turn of the twentieth century Western Europe was experiencing an insatiable hunger for American culture and few things stirred European interest more than music that was familiar and distant at the same time. Early on, countries like France, England and Germany were incorporating regional influences into primary jazz forms.

Marches, jigs and polkas were among the most influential of the European styles that fed into the development of ragtime. In the U.S. it was John Philip Sousa who first popularized many of these genres as well as the cakewalk. Originated on slave plantations, the cakewalk's primary origins are believed to be a combination of "The Chalk Line Walk" (about 1850) and the "Ring Shout"; the first derived by Florida slaves from a Seminole Indian processional, the second from the West African Circle Dance, dating back to the 1700s. Some of the mannerisms of the cakewalk dance were related to the quadrille, a European dance from the late 1700s and 1800s that had a structure common with American square dancing. Over time, the slave version of the cakewalk developed into a satire of the mannerisms of Southern white gentry. The parody was lost on white performers whose black-face minstrel shows burlesqued what they thought was an apolitical plantation dance. Context aside, the cakewalk remained popular for decades but unlike the present-day connotation for the word, the dance was hardly simple. Distinct from more urbane ragtime, cakewalk—with its oompah rhythm—was meant for dancing and was more likely to be played by a small ensemble.

In bringing the cakewalk and ragtime to Europe, the importance of black bandleader/pianist James Reese Europe cannot be overstated. The ragtime and early roots-jazz composer, Europe had launched Harlem's Clef Club when he was barely out of his twenties. The club was not a performance venue but a booking agency and union shop. Europe was born the son of slaves in Mobile, Alabama. After the Civil War his family made their way to Washington, D.C. where all four siblings successfully pursued careers in music, in and out of school. Europe moved up to the Tin Pan Alley neighborhood of New York City in 1902, taking advantage of the local music publishing companies and music venues such as John B. Nail's Saloon, Ike Hine's Professional Club and Barron Wilkin's Little Savoy, playing what was termed "Popular Black Music" and ragtime piano, and here, in New York, he established his namesake Society Orchestra.

In 1913, his band became the first black orchestra to record their music. With the start of World War I, Europe joined the army and rose to the rank of lieutenant, becoming the first black officer in the U.S. to lead combat troops on foreign soil. His military jazz orchestra, the Hellfighters, officially designated as the 369th New York Regimental Band, began performing in France in 1918 and immediately influenced some French musicians who requested his scores. About the same time, the Original Dixieland Jass Band was touring England and inspiring that country's more adventurous artists. In the early 1920s, Sidney Bechet toured throughout Western Europe and as far to the east as Russia. Later, in the 1960s and 70s, the European continent would become the home base for many black American musicians such as Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke, and Don Byas.

Early European Venues

As in urban U.S. locations, the first European venues for ragtime and early jazz were theaters and dancehalls. France, and to a lesser extent England, were largely influential in shaping modern jazz outside the states. Both countries were more welcoming of black American musicians and recognized the greater influence of West Africa in the development of jazz. The African-American drummer and bandleader Louis A. Mitchell established his Southern Symphonists' Quartet in New York City in 1912 and later played drums in James Reese Europe's group. His second group, Louis Mitchell's Jazz Kings, toured throughout the UK and France in 1919 and later played with Sidney Bechet and recorded for the French label Pathé. Mitchell's Jazz Kings were the first jazz group to play the Casino de Paris. The venue was built in the 1700s and transformed from an ice skating rink to a music hall in the 1880s. It remains as a functioning entertainment venue in 2018. Mitchell's Jazz Kings became the house band in 1918 and remained so for five years.


The neighborhoods around Montmartre, Montparnasse, Champs-Élysées and Saint-Germain-des-Prés were all home to clubs frequented by American musicians in the early 1900s. An American jazz singer and club owner, Ada Louise Smith, performed in 1920s Paris as "Bricktop," a nickname attributed to her read hair. By 1926, she had opened the Music Box where she acted as everything from performer to bouncer. It was one of the venues that Bechet played along with Cricket Smith, Django Reinhardt, and Stephane Grappelli. Bricktop's appeal was in her mastery of the Charleston, a dance that was the rage of Paris in the mid-1920s and her club attracted a diverse collection of celebrities from F. Scott Fitzgerald to the Aga Khan. At the same time, it became the center of black socializing in Paris. It was here that Bechet engaged in an infamous sidewalk gun fight that resulted in his arrest and deportation. The Music Box remained open until 1961. Josephine Baker opened her own Montmartre club, Chez Josephine's, in 1926 at 40 Rue Fontaine. A close friend of Bricktop, the venues shared acts but Baker herself continued to perform at other venues, leaving the club's day-to-day management in other hands. Chez Josephine's was an immediate success, its cliental more "high end" and its shows more decadent, in comparison to Bricktop's. Chez Josephine's remains open 2018, but at a different location and no longer featuring jazz. Le Boeuf sur le Toit (The Ox on the Roof) is a renowned Parisian cabaret founded in 1921 and it was a frequent stop for Benny Carter. Hôtel Ritz Paris, founded in 1898, has played host to dignitaries and celebrities from its outset. In the 1920s, Bechet, George Gershwin and Cole Porter mixed with Ernest Hemingway, Fitzgerald and other leading Jazz Age figures.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers were the debut act at New Morning in Paris in April, 1981. Among others, it has hosted George Russell, Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Dizzy Gillespie, Arturo Sandoval, Dexter Gordon, Roy Hargrove, and Kenny Clarke. Le Caveau de la Huchette is in the Latin Quarter of Paris, housed in a 16th century structure. The club opened in 1949 and early on featured Americans such as Bechet, Lionel Hampton and Blakey, and French jazz musicians like Claude Luter and Claude Bolling. Performances at Le Caveau de la Huchette are often broadcast on Mezzo, a French television channel that features classical, jazz and world music and shares content in a dozen other countries in Europe and Asia. Les Disquaires at 4-6 Rue des Taillandiers in Paris is known for experimental jazz performances. Artists mix jazz with hip-hop, M-Base and rock in the minimal setting.


On the north side of the English Channel, black American performers initially brought spirituals and gospel music to British audiences around 1903. Beginning in the late 1890s, ragtime sheet music was being published for piano and player-piano rolls, encouraging the British to re-discover the music for themselves. The availability of the phonograph, or gramophone in Britain, closely coincided with the release of the Original Dixieland Jass Band's recording of "Livery Stable Blues," the first "jazz" recording, and it caught fire with listeners. However, where Americans in France could open their own clubs and performing freely, the situation in Britain was considerably different.

The Amalgamated Musicians' Union (MU) was founded in 1893 and was a powerful force in Britain with membership in the hundreds of thousands and full support from the Ministry of Labour. When Paul Whiteman's Orchestra arrived in London in 1923, membership was already sounding alarms about an American invasion taking jobs from local musicians. A series of restrictions imposed a type of quota system on Americans, making it difficult for them to obtain work permits. At the same time, what the Americans were bringing in was dance music and the demand for bands was growing exponentially. The MU's ranks were heavily skewed toward classical and theater musicians and remained so until late in the 1930s. The substitution of British-for-American musicians in jazz performances was easier said than done.

American violinist Paul Specht was a popular bandleader who had signed with Columbia Records in 1922. That same year he toured in Britain and encountered permit problems that played out over four years and resulted in his filing a lawsuit against the British union. As a result of the MU and Ministry rules, even the Original Dixieland Jass Band was required to swap out their pianist for a British player—a critical personnel role in ragtime and an impractical face to put on the band. The ODJB faced another unforeseen—but serious—credibility issue as a result of playing outside the US. In Circular Breathing (Duke University Press, 2005) George McKay explains that ODJB publically and overtly denied an obvious truth—that their style was based on that of black ragtime bands. The claim generated a backlash in Britain, where the opposite reality seemed evident to many.

The densest concentration of British venues were located in the London area and until the 1940s, most were cabarets or theaters. The London Palladium is the most famous musical and theatrical venue in the UK. The two-thousand-plus seat West End theater hosted the ODJB in 1919, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong in the early 1930s, and, under new management, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra in the mid-1940s. Management, beginning in 1945, bucked the regulations on Americans giving them top billing and generating some controversy in the process. The Palladium continues to feature a wide variety of high-end theater productions and musical performances in 2018 but jazz performances are few. The Kit Cat Club opened in the eighteenth century and had changed it program frequently over the years. Singers, dancers, acrobats and jugglers were replaced by jazz dance bands in the 1920s. The origin of the club's name is not clear.

So called "Rhythm Clubs" were established in 1933 and were more informal settings offering performances one night per week. These clubs were seen as crucial in revitalizing the popularity of jazz in Britain after a downturn in acceptance in the late 1920s. Regular employment for jazz musicians remained elusive until clubs like the Flamingo, Marquee, The Dankworth Club and Studio 51 began to offer multiple-night performances. The Feldman Swing Club, (also known as the No1 Swing Club), opened in 1942 and was the first club in London to be dedicated exclusively to jazz. Saxophonist Victor Feldman, whose father and brothers founded the club, began his musical career at the club. Feldman's hosted most of Britain's top jazz musicians as well as noted Americans such as Benny Goodman and Art Pepper.

In 1959, Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club opened on London's Gerrard Street before moving to Frith Street in 1967. It has long been one of the most famous and successful jazz clubs in the world. The Ministry of Labour's 1956 lifting of the ban on American musicians performing in the UK was key to Ronnie Scott's success and Stan Kenton's orchestra opened at the club that year, with much fanfare. Zoot Sims was an early U.S. visitor, performing in 1962, and was the first of many American saxophonists to play Scott's. Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt were among those who shared the venue with their English counterparts Tubby Hayes and Dick Morrissey. Scott, himself, was a highly accomplished tenor saxophonist with dozens of recordings including a notable non-jazz appearance with The Beatles on "Lady Madonna" (1968). Among the scores of American performers at Ronnie Scott's were Earl "Fatha" Hines, Chet Baker, Anita O'Day, Ellington and Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix, Dianne Reeves, Wynton Marsalis, Madeleine Peyroux, Prince, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, George Benson and Cassandra Wilson. At least fifty live albums have been recorded at the club, to date.

The Vortex at 11 Gillett Square in London opened in 1984 as an art gallery on Church Street. Shortly afterward the venue added jazz and by 1987, patron interest in music edged out visual art resulting in a conversion to an all-music format with a neighborhood atmosphere. In the 1990s, The Vortex added specialized nights to their calendar; saxophonist Elton Dean hosted a weekly avant-garde night while a different night featured new local talent. The Vortex later began recording performances for broadcasts on the BBC. The club's early 2018 calendar includes Tim Berne's Big Satan trio with Marc Ducret and Tom Rainey, saxophonist Paul Dunmall, Dave Holland, Evan Parker, Trio Elf, Kit Downes, Howard Riley and Barry Guy.


The African-American a cappella group, Fisk Jubilee Singers, began performing with an 1871 tour of locations along what had been the Underground Railroad. The following year they performed at the White House for President Ulysses S. Grant. It was this evolving group of performers who took spirituals to the British in 1903 and their European tour later introduced this music to Germany. Within a year of the cakewalk and ragtime reaching France and Britain, American influence reached the outer borders of Western Europe.

For all intent and purposes, 1920s music journalists in Germany seemed to relate the entire jazz genre to a singular element—the Charleston. The Paul Bernhard book, whose German title translates to Jazz -A Musical Issue (Delphin-Verlag/Munchen, 1927), noted that the presence of Josephine Baker in 1925 Berlin was a mutual love fest. Baker was the manifestation of the Charleston at a time when it was all the rage throughout Western Europe. "Tiger Rag"—first recorded in the U.S. in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jass Band—and a popular Charleston dance tune, was re-released on a German label in 1920. While American musicians had a clear influence on their German counterparts, the country was relatively quick to adapt to a home-grown brand of jazz. Paul Whiteman was extraordinarily popular in Berlin and his concerts were broadcast live. From the mid-1920s into the early 30s German radio was flooded with popular American jazz music from Armstrong, Ellington, Red Nichols and others. The prestigious Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt (founded in 1878) instituted the first known academic jazz studies program in 1928. But National Socialism decimated the jazz scene in 1933. With Hitler's rise to power, jazz was dealt multiple setbacks. Some of the most popular band leaders and composers in Berlin—such as Stefan Weintraub, Karol Rathaus, Efim Schachmeister and Paul Godwin—were Jewish, and fled the country. Less directly, the "racial purity" doctrine of the Nazi party decreed that jazz was black music and therefore unacceptable. Finally, the perceived cultural "Americanization" of Germany went from aspiration to abomination in very short order. The Nazi reaction to jazz was not simply manifested in closing down venues that promoted the music. The Swingjugend (Swing Kids) were a loosely organized group of apolitical boys and girls aged fourteen to eighteen who continued to play jazz in various locations. In 1941 they were rounded up by police and their leaders sent to concentration camps. A jazz club "scene," on the scale of what occurred in France and Britain, didn't have the same opportunity to develop in Germany during the Jazz Age but the movement was resilient and withstood more than one submergence to the underground.

The Zig Zag Club is a massive twelve-hundred person capacity club in Berlin is known for its state-of-the-art sound system. It is a venue for electronic and jazz music and its recent performers have included Myra Melford, Ron Miles, Liberty Ellman, Stomu Takeishi, Gerald Cleaver, Wayne Escoffery, Jason Miles and Reggie Washington. The A-Trane, in the old section of West Berlin dates back to 1997. The club was originally relegated to the basement of what had been a potato processing factory. The A-Trane is widely known, drawing audiences from four continents and has been the site of live broadcast for radio and recordings. Trumpeter Till Brönner was the first act to play the club and returned to perform for their twentieth year anniversary. The early 2018 schedule includes concerts from Chris Speed, pianist Julia Hulsmann, saxophonist JD Allen, Pericopes +1 and trombonist Nils Wogram. Jazz clubs are ubiquitous in Germany and reach well outside Berlin. Among the most popular are the Tonne Jazz Club in Dresden, which dates back to communist-ruled East Germany, the Jazzkeller in Frankfurt, the Zur Unterfahrt in Munich and the Bix in Stuttgart.


Like Germany, Poland experienced an eruption of enthusiasm in the 1920s and the country's musicians were quick to incorporate ethnic and traditional influences. The same political forces that suppressed jazz in Germany, dominated Poland. It remains largely unrecognized that the Polish jazz culture predates Louis Armstrong's modern improvised jazz. As early as 1923, Polish jazz musicians were touring Eastern Europe in the company of Chicago and New Orleans Dixieland players. The American perspective of Polish jazz is principally defined by trumpeter Tomasz Stanko, violinist Michal Urbaniak and pianist Krzysztof Komeda. Along with later arrivals to the scene, such as pianists Marcin Wasilewski, Adam Makowicz and saxophonist Zbigniew Namyslowski, this group of artists constitutes much of what American audiences have experienced in Polish jazz. A more global recognition was further delayed by the Nazi occupation and later Soviet control. Jazz didn't re-emerge until the late 1950s but artists from saxophonist Gerry Mulligan to pianist Brad Mehldau have been influence by the rich traditions of jazz rooted in this country.

The Karasiński & Kataszek Jazz -Tango Orchestra was established in 1923, playing Warsaw venues and later touring as far as the Middle East. A number of well-established bands of the 1920s and early 30s emulated the dance orchestra style of Benny Goodman, whose mother emigrated from Poland to the U.S. The arts flourished in pre-occupation Poland as German jazz emigres fled oppression and many of the Polish bands were provided the opportunity to stabilize their incomes by supplying music for the country's burgeoning film industry. The venues that drew top jazz entertainment in the pre-occupation years were Qui Pro Quo (1919—1932), the Warsaw Barber Cabaret which functioned from 1935 to 1939 and the Cyganeria Café in the Kraków Ghetto. The Cyganeria—during the German occupation—became a favorite nightspot of Nazi officials, leading to its bombing by an underground resistance group in 1941, months before the ghetto was liquidated. Following the war Poland fell under Soviet control and jazz remained suppressed until Stalin's death in 1953. With a gradual easing of repression, the arts began a resurgence and in 1958 Dave Brubeck played to an enthusiastic Warsaw audience. By the 1960s, traditional, mainstream and free jazz segments were thriving in Poland.

Among the many jazz clubs that now dot the Polish landscape, few can boast of the progressive lineup of Alchemia. The recent calendar includes reed player Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Hamid Drake and Joe McPhee. Klub Harenda in Krakow features Polish jazz musicians and covers the full spectrum of jazz from Dixieland to free improvisation. The Jazz Café in Warsaw highlights an eclectic blend of regional music and jazz. A case in point is the Motion Trio, a well-known Polish accordion trio who have performed with Bobby McFerrin and Michal Urbaniak among others. Also in Warsaw is Pardon, To Tu, an unpretentious spot that is part book store, part club. The calendar includes more than one genre but jazz occupies a large part of the schedule. Piec Art Acoustic Jazz Club is at the center of Krakow's Old Town and caters to local talent. In the nearby Market Square is the Harris Piano Bar, a breeding ground for Polish jazz acts that have gone on to prominence. The names of the musicians who play the Klub U Muniaka won't be familiar to many Americans but the club is one of the most popular in Poland.


Italy, like Britain and Germany, first encountered American black music in the pre-jazz era. Creole singers and dancers, performed in Milan's Eden Theater in 1904. They were billed by the Eden as the originators of the cakewalk though credits of that nature seemed to be spread about liberally. Early jazz met with extreme politics earlier in Italy than in other parts of Europe. The Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini was in place in 1922 and despite overall anti-American cultural policies Mussolini was more than tolerant of jazz music. A violinist himself, his son Romano was a jazz pianist of considerable skill with nine recordings to his credit and all are widely available today. A prodigy from a wealthy Genoese family, Pippo Barzizzo studied violin, banjo, saxophone and accordion and played with a top sextet while still in his teens. In 1925 he formed the Blue Star Orchestra, a group that fluctuated between six and seven personnel. A meticulous arranger, Barzizzo personally transcribed all group parts from recordings of Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer and other American artists. Armstrong was among the Americans who toured in pre-war Italy and in 1931 the Orchestra Jazz Columbia, became a joint American-Italian project. The Angelini Orchestra was formed at about the same time and played the country's most famous dance hall, the Sala Gay in Turin. Roman violinist, conductor and arranger and Cinico Angelini (who performed as Angelo Cinico) led the Perroquet Royal Jazz group and others, between the 1930s and 1960s. Angelini became a pivotal figure in the programming of jazz performances on Italian National Radio (RAI Radio). Much of the early history of jazz in Italy was lost in World War II as Milan and Turin—the early centers of jazz—were extensively damaged.

Jazz in modern Italy is thriving. The prestigious Umbria Jazz Festival has been a major international draw for more than four decades. Over the years the festival has hosted Cecil Taylor, Chet Baker, Keith Jarrett, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Pat Metheny, Sun Ra, Carla Bley, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Ahmad Jamal, Wynton Marsalis and countless others. The festival has had no shortage of native sons onstage, including Stefano di Battista, Enrico Pieranunzi, Enzo Pietropaoli, Enrico Rava, Stefano Bollani and Paolo Fresu.

Alexanderplatz Jazz Club in Rome, is one of the oldest jazz clubs in Italy with an underground location just outside of Vatican City. In more than thirty years it has hosted many American musicians such as Wynton Marsalis, Brad Meldhau and Steve Coleman as well as the best known Italian artists. Jazz Club was founded in 1979 in Florence. Its claim to trivia fame is that Peter Weller—the lead actor in the RoboCop movie—performed there. Weller is a trained jazz trumpeter (North Texas State) who also holds a Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance art. Moody Jazz Café in Foggia is an eatery in the morning and a prominent jazz club at night. Its recent calendar included Enrico Rava and Kenny Garrett. The Bar Caffè Doria's Jazz Club resides in the Doria Grand Hotel in Milan and has a retro program of classic Dixieland, ragtime and swing jazz. The Bebop Jazz Club in Rome is a haven for local talent and, on the high-end, Blue Note Milano Jazz Club has featured well-known Americans such as Chris Potter and Buster Williams.

Many of the best jazz clubs in Europe are outside the borders of France, Britain, Germany, Poland and Italy. Among the too-many-to-mention are the Hot Clube de Portugal in Lisbon, Copenhagen's Jazzhus Montmartre, Reduta in Prague, Cafe Central in Madrid, and Amsterdam's Bimhuis.

A Sampling of European Club Recordings

Girls in Airports: Live (Recorded at venues in Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin; Edition Records, 2017)

Thanks in large part to labels like ECM, Odin Records and Rune Grammofon, jazz fans in the US have become familiar with a many Norwegian and Scandinavian jazz artists. Copenhagen based Girls in Airports has not been one of those groups but it's about time the quintet broke into this market. The group debuted with a self-produced, self-titled album in 2010. Then a quartet, an additional percussionist joined with their sophomore release. Live is their fifth album and is culled from three 2017 concerts in Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin.

Saxophonist Martin Stender wrote all twelve songs with undesignated group participation. "Kantine" opens at a languid pace, building to a feverish pitch built on the interaction of Stender and fellow saxophonist Lars Greve. The two then engage in a more careful choreography, lightly sparing with each other before the piece quietly fades away. Keyboardist Mathias Holm gently guides in "Kaikoura," the reeds falling into line, sparked by imaginative soloing. "Broken Stones" has a darker feeling to it, influenced by Holm's electronics and a brooding pacing. The reeds, in the upper register, add a Celtic ambience but then breakout into freer improvisation.

A more exotic melody permeates "Fables," giving way to a saxophone drone and then an avant-garde passage that could be out of early Pink Floyd. Percussionist Victor Dybbroe had previously worked with The Gamelan, an Indonesian ensemble of percussion instruments, and he brings some of that flavor to "Episodes." "Aeiki" takes global influences a step further as both Asian and African influences can be heard. "ADAC," "Need a Light," "Migration" and "King's Birthday" are more abstract and discordant, at times solidly dropping into free improvisation. The album closes with "Vejviser," returning to the model that opened the album, keys and reeds quietly and dramatically ending the set.

Girls in Airports has an unusual sound; with a blend of lyrical, driving and global music, they represent an alternative direction for jazz and one that is largely untapped. Edition Records is making significant inroads in bringing artists from the UK, Finland, Norway, Denmark and throughout Europe, to the broader global audience. Phronesis, Django Bates and Verneri Pohjola are among the artists who have found a home on the label. Live represents some of the best jazz coming out of Denmark, and Girls in Airports are well worth a listen.

Track Listing: Kantine; Kaikoura; Broken Stones; Fables; Episodes; Aeiki; Albert Kahn; ADAC; Need a Light; Migration; King's Birthday; Vejviser.

Personnel: Martin Stender: saxophones; Lars Greve: saxophones and clarinets; Mathias Holm: keys; Victor Dybbroe: percussion; Mads Forsby: drums.

Duo Baars Henneman & Dave Burrell: Trandans (Recorded at Bimhuis in Amsterdam; Wig, 2017)

Dutch multi-reedist Ab Baars has been active, mostly in Europe, since the 1970s, recording for several labels on the continent and touring in both rock and jazz capacities. His unique style had been dubbed "Ab Music" by the late Misha Mengelberg with whom he had recorded Circus (Instant Composers Pool, 2006) along with Han Bennick. More recently he teamed with Ingrid Laubrock, Tom Rainey and violist Ig Henneman on Perch Hen Brock & Rain (Relative Pitch Records/Wig, 2016).

Henneman again joins Baars on Trandans. The musical, and life partners had toured and recorded as Duo Baars-Henneman on Autumn Songs (Wig, 2013), their second duo release. Henneman has worked as a violist in orchestra settings as well as with her own rock group and jazz quintet and sextet. Dave Burrell needs little introduction. The pianist has worked in groups with saxophonists Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders, composed for a jazz opera and has been recording as a leader since 1968's High Won-High Two (Black Lion). He received high praise for his album Expansion (High Two, 2004) which featured William Parker and Andrew Cyrille.

The duo invited Burrell to join them at a concert at the Bimhuis, Amsterdam, in September of 2016 where Trandans was recorded. The eight compositions are group improvisations that often center on Baars choice of instrument. The title track opens darkly with Burrell's well-spaced chords and notes and the drone of Henneman's viola. It takes on more shrill properties as Baars enters with the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese flute whose sound can range from the depths of a didgeridoo to something akin to the braking of a subway train. "Fyllevägen" and "Dis vid Hulan" follow and, as with most of the album's material, the improvisations are more about textures, silence and tones rather than song structure.

The first real explosion of sound occurs on "Laggarebo," a twelve minute improvisation played out in episodes that include Baars running the upper and lower registers of the tenor. Further into the piece, Henneman uses her viola as a fiddle for an unexpected bit of hoedown. Much of the closing "Korsekebacken" is given over to Burrell who essentially performs an avant-garde solo for much of the eleven-plus minutes before Baars joins in on clarinet.

The live recording often segues from track to track without interruption and the audience is not heard until the set is completed. While there are melodic segments throughout, the parts are very open, but controlled. The overall tone is not at all harsh though the high ends of the flute, viola and piano working in tandem can occasionally be penetrating. Fortunately, these passages are limited and balanced with reflection. Trandans is interesting music with an audacious spirit.

Track Listing: Trandans; Fyllevägen; Dis vid Hulan; Laggarebo; De Knutiga Aplarna; Regn Segel; Rassel Runt Brunnen; Korsekebacken.

Personnel: Ab Baars: tenor saxophone, clarinet, shakuhachi; Ig Henneman: viola; Dave Burrell: piano.

Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (Vienna; JazzSick Records, 2013)

Vienna's Porgy & Bess Jazz Club is approaching its twentieth anniversary as an international—but intimate—venue for top jazz talent from Europe and beyond. It's the perfect setting for this live recording from the Lajos Dudas Trio. A Hungarian native living in Germany, clarinetist Dudas is teamed with long-time collaborator, guitarist Phillipp van Endert and bassist Leonard E. Jones. Jones—a seminal member of the AACM—has played with Muhal Richard Abrams, Sonny Simmons and Mal Waldron in the course of his accomplished career. For his part, Dudas has worked with Karl Berger, Albert Mangelsdorff and Attila Zoller among the more familiar names in the U.S. Endert's equally impressive resume includes gigs with Kenny Wheeler, Mike Stern and Danny Gottlieb.

Live at Porgy & Bess features four original tracks penned by Dudas along with an assortment of time-tested standards. Stylistically, the collection strikes its equilibrium between tradition and subtle innovation. The drummer-less trio adeptly sustains a natural connection between the strings and clarinet while allowing each player to move outside their respective comfort zones. The ten-minute opener, "Soft Waves" is a quiet, controlled piece with somewhat more loosely structured solo performances from Dudas and Endert. The pair takes a more forceful approach on "Reni's Ballad" where their improvisations feel more melodically incidental.

Thelonious Monk's "In Walked Bud" gets a multi-faceted treatment from the trio. In a moderate swing tempo, Dudas adds light ornamentation before Endert and Jones take the lead, transforming the piece with a bit of Eastern European folk sentiment. That proves to be another transition leading to Endert's own intricate, fast-paced solo. Covers of George Gershwin's "Embraceable You" and Attila Zoller's "Rumpelstilzchen" are respectful of the original while the improvisations seems to float above the main theme.

As agreeably harmonious as the performances on Live at Porgy & Bess are there is plenty of diversity evident. Among Dudas's original compositions "Maydance" has a distinct samba rhythm while "Back to L.A." is blues inspired and culminates with Endert displaying his rock riffs. Cole Porter's "Night and Day" ends the program with the same amiable vein as it opened. Live at Porgy & Bess is an atmospheric collection with a uniquely direct and lyrical style. Dudas and company consistently instill their sense of melody with subtle swing and pleasant improvisation.

Track Listing: Soft Waves; Reni's Ballad; Homage to O.P.; In Walked Bud; Embraceable You; Rumpelstilzchen; Maydance; Back to L.A.; Night and Day.

Personnel: Lajos Dudas: clarinet; Philipp van Endert: guitar; Leonard Jones: bass.

Arild Andersen: Live at Belleville (Belleville Club, Oslo; ECM, 2010)

More than forty years ago, Norwegian bassist, Arild Andersen joined saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the late Finnish drummer Edward Vesala to record the groundbreaking Triptykon (ECM 1972), one of these musicians' most energized work. It's a happy coincidence that the new millennium has seen both Garbarek and Andersen—ECM artists, both—create what may be their individual masterpieces—Live at Belleville, in the bassist's case. Andersen's intervening ECM years have generated an impressive catalog of high quality work including Molde Concert (1982), Sagn (1991) and Hyperborean (1997), but these have been more introspective efforts. As much as Live at Belleville is an accomplishment for Andersen, it is no less an achievement for Scottish saxophonist, Tommy Smith. Smith, who has worked with Gary Burton, Joe Lovano, Chick Corea and John Scofield, to name just a few, plays here as though he was born into the setting.

Recorded at Oslo's Belleville Club, this date is centered by the four-part "Independency Suite," Andersen's composition celebrating the independence of his native country. Musical accolades to patriotism, jingoism and many other ism's, tend to lean toward ambiguous pomp, full of sentimentality and short on melodic hooks. Even Charlie Haden's open minded Liberation Music Orchestra treated "America the Beautiful" with a kind of off-kilter reverence. Whatever might be expected in a sovereignty-based theme, Andersen's suite dashes traditional expectations with its free-form improvisation and sense of exploration.

The four parts, totaling more than forty-three minutes, are played without audience interruption, creating an epic scope. "Independency Part 1" plays at a slow, but eccentric tempo, continuing into the opening of "Part 2," where the pace picks up considerably and a freer improvisation begins. Andersen's solos are deep, woody and intricate. Smith demonstrates his ability to produce heat without giving up the melody. "Part 3" is a memorably striking piece, with Smith's long fluid lines and Andersen's sonorous bass creating a pensive atmosphere and stunning harmonies. The concluding section of the suite finds Andersen delivering a bluesy line that changes tempo and expands to accommodate some excellent free flowing improvisational solos from both the bassist and Smith.

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