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Culture Clubs: Part IV: When Jazz Met Europe

Karl Ackermann By

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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.

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