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Forget Old Europe: 15 European Jazz Musicians You Need To Know About


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Since the first half of the 20th century, the Old Continent has played a pivotal role both in welcoming and supporting jazz artists from the United States. Over the following decades it has expressed generations of passionate musicians with increasingly original languages and ever greater improvisatory skills.

In the 21st century there are countless excellent, professionally trained, jazz musicians all over Europe (as everywhere else in the world), ranging from the more mainstream boppers to the most radical sonic explorers. They infuse their music with interesting aspects from their cultural and geographical upbringing, while, at the same time, yearning for a global, cross-cutting, generational recognition.

Here I present 15 artists or bands that probably are not among the best known outside of Europe but are worthy of your attention (more information, including bios, discographies, and videos, can be found by clicking on the musician's name and browsing their profile).

They come from different countries and traditions, mostly from recent generations of artists who are bringing refreshing new talent to the genre. The choices could have been broader (regretfully, not all the Countries can be covered in the limited space here, but we'll talk in more detail about other scenes soon; in the meanwhile you can also read the article about the 15 Italian Jazz musicians you need to know about) and someone else would have probably selected different names here and there -I tend to prefer artists with an original language than virtuoso stylists -but this article has the humble ambition to sketch an alluring path to encourage you to enter the world of new European jazz and start an exploration of its riches.

Reinier Baas (The Netherlands)

From a country of irreverent and provocative jazzmen like Holland (homeland of fanciful "giants" as Han Bennink, Misha Mengelberg or Willem Breuker) comes the passionate talent of young guitar wizard Reinier Baas. His electric creativity can be admired in different settings, from solo to full orchestras. His record Smooth Jazz Apocalypse has impressed critics and listeners and his latest effort, the complex Vs. Princess Discombobulatrix, is an ambitious, mostly instrumental, opera, for a group of 14 classical and jazz musicians and it features the contribution of the famous Dutch illustrator Typex.

Suggested listening:
  • Reinier Baas, Vs. Princess Discombobulatrix (Painted Dog, 2016)
  • Reinier Baas, Smooth Jazz Apocalypse (Mainland Records, 2014)
Other musicians from The Netherlands you should keep an eye on and may like: Tomasz Dabrowski (Poland)

Polish (but now living in Copenhagen) trumpet player Tomasz Dabrowski's unique approach blends avant-jazz languages with Eastern European folk music. He collaborates with European and US musicians (he plays with Tyshawn Sorey and Kris Davis) also using a vintage "Balkan horn" and he is a and member of the Barefoot Collective. His projects range from the intimate and zen-like solo to his unpredictable trio with Nils Bo Davidsen on double bass and Anders Mogensen on drums, up to Free4Arts Quartet with Danish colleagues like Jacob Anderskov.

Suggested listening:
  • Tomasz Dabrowski S-O-L-O, 30th Birthday / 30 Concerts / 30 Cities (Barefoot, 2016)
  • Tomasz Dabrowski, TOM Trio (Ilk Records, 2012)
Other musicians from Poland you should keep an eye on and may like: De Beren Gieren (Belgium)

This brilliant piano trio moves between post-jazz textures, minimalist spells, electro-acoustic distorting mirrors and humorous jumps into the tradition. Fulco Ottervanger (piano), Lieven Van Pee (bass) and Simon Segers (drums) have a unique approach to this classic format, drawing the listener into unexpected, quirky, polyrhythmic landscapes. They often play with other refined European improvisers (Joachim Badenhorst, Susana Santos Silva, Louis Sclavis) and will publish their new record, Dug Out Skyscrapers (SDBAN Records), in the fall of 2017 .

Suggested listening:
  • De Beren Gieren, One Mirrors Many (Clean Feed, 2015)
  • De Beren Gieren (feat. Susana Santos Silva), The Detour Fish (Clean Feed, 2013)
Other musicians from Belgium you should keep an eye on and may like: Kaja Draksler (Slovenia)

Slovenia is a tiny country (its area is smaller than New Hampshire) with a great attention for jazz. Also thanks to the supportive role played by one of the best festivals in Europe, the Ljubljana Jazz Festival, a growing number of Slovenian artists are expressing fresh ideas and engaging projects. Pianist Kaja Draksler is one of them. Her solo music has been defined by Down Beat as "a wealth of sturdy ideas and nonchalant technique," but this young artist also leads a multifaceted octet with voices, reeds and strings and challenges herself in adventurous duets with colleagues like Onno Govaert, Susana Santos Silva, Eve Risser or Matiss Cudars. Impulsive and organized at the same time, her piano playing revives some New Thing intuitions (her master thesis was a study of Cecil Taylor's inner structures of improvisation) with a global, post-modern vibe.

Suggested listening:
  • Kaja Draksler Octet Gledalec (Clean Feed, 2017)
  • Kaja Draksler Solo The Lives of Many Others (Clean Feed, 2013)
Duot (Spagna)

Ramón Prats on drums and Albert Cirera on sax form the thought-provoking Duot, a project characterized by an evocative dialogue that draws its energy from the roots of free jazz and is fueled with warm, Mediterranean accents. Both highly skilled and active on the Spanish and European scenes, Prats and Cirera find in this duo the ultimate "battlefield" for their boundless creativity, sometimes sharing the stage with colleagues like guitarist Andy Moor, with whom they have recently recorded a superb CD.

Suggested listening:
  • Duot & Andy Moor, Food (Repetidor, 2017)
  • Duot, Live at Jamboree (Repetidor, 2015)
Alexander Hawkins (United Kingdom)

British pianist and keyboardist Alexander Hawkins stands as one of the most original composers and improvisers of his generation. Contributing to Ethio-jazz master Mulatu Astatke's band as well as collaborating with adventurous colleagues from both sides of the ocean (from Anthony Braxton to Evan Parker, from Joe McPhee to Han Bennink), his peculiar approach blends free-jazz restlessness with South-African rhythms (he is drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo's longtime partner) and complex compositional architectures. His latest double release, Unit[e], celebrates 10 years of his sextet, alongside with some large ensemble music.

Suggested listening:
  • Alexander Hawkins Unit[e], Unit[e] (Alexander Hawkins Music, 2017)
  • Evan Parker, Alexander Hawkins Duo, Leaps in Leicester (Clean Feed, 2016)
Martin Kuchen (Sweden)

Swedish saxophonist Martin Küchen expresses his frantic, visceral, politically committed voice (he plays all the instruments of the sax family) in different and bracing projects. From his adventurous solo with extended techniques to the combustive Trespass Trio (with Per Zanussi on bass and Raymond Strid on drums), up to the contagious Angles 9, a strong and energetic band (featuring, among others, bassist Johan Bertling, trombone ace Mats Äleklint Quartet and vibes wizard Mattias Ståhl) that projects the never exinguished fire of the Brotherhood of Breath, Charlie Haden and Charles Mingus into the global cosmos of the 21st century .

Suggested listening:
  • Angles 9, Disappeared Behind the Sun (Clean Feed, 2017)
  • Trespass Trio, The Spirit of Pitesti (Clean Feed, 2017)
Christian Lillinger (Germany)

Sparkling German drummer Christian Lillinger is not only a sought-after player in many European combos, but leads some thrilling projects on his own. His super-septet Grund (featuring Tobias Delius on sax, Achim Kaufmann on piano and Jonas Westergaard on bass) explores the luxuriant lands between composition and improvisation. The Amok Amor Quartet, with Peter Evans on trumpet, pushes the boundaries of contemporary jazz. The symbiotic trio Grünen (with distinctive pianist Achim Kaufmann and bassist Robert Landfermann), is always unpredictable. A 21st Century drummer!

Suggested listening:
  • Amok Amor, We Know Not What We Do (Intakt, 2017)
  • Christian Lillinger, Grund (Pirouet, 2015)
Mopo (Finland)

Snarky jazz meets good ol' brother punk in the middle of the Finnish landscape. The result is the exhilarating trio Mopo, featuring saxophonist Linda Fredriksson, bassist Eero Tikkanen and drummer Eeti Nieminen. The basic trio format allows the three inventive improvisers to explore an endless number of sonic sceneries, quickly moving from sweet and dancing melodies to the most ferocious screams. Captivating and fresh!

Suggested listening:
  • Mopo & Ville Leinonen, Laivalla (Texicalli, 2016)
  • Mopo, Beibe (Texicalli, 2014)
Mette Rasmussen (Denmark)

Add some good ol' and new punkish attitude to free improvisation, shake it with some naughty uncompromising Northern European DNA and you will get young quicksilver Mette Rasmussen. Born in Denmark but based in Norway, this combustive alto saxophonist takes no prisoners. Exploring the rawness of her instrument (in the tradition of European improvisers like Evan Parker, as well as out of the free jazz lineage), she plays solo, in challenging duets or with unrepentant colleagues in Trio Riot, as well as being part of the lovely mammoth Mats Gustafsson's Fire! Orchestra.

Suggested listening:
  • Mette Rasmussen & Chris Corsano, All the Ghosts at Once (Relative Pitch, 2015)
  • Trio Riot, Trio Riot (Efpi, 2014)
Eve Risser (France)

For improviser and composer Eve Risser the piano is a magic boxful of worlds. For four years she was a member of the Orchestre National de Jazz and now she leads her own large ensemble, the White Desert Orchestra, a mind-blowing sound entity moving from hypnotic scores to the most atmospheric chamber sound details. Her duet with Japanese drummer Yuko Oshima is playful and humorous, while the trio with Benjamin Duboc on bass and Edward Perraud on drums, En Corps, pushes her prepared and unprepared piano into the free realms of the unexpected.

Suggested listening:
  • Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra, Le Deux Versants Se Regardent (Clean Feed, 2017)
  • En Corps, Generation (Dark Tree Records, 2017)
Susana Santos Silva (Portugal)

Susana Santos Silva is an intriguing trumpet player and improviser from Portugal. Her textural and whiffling approach incorporates different influences, from free improvisation to sound art, including contemporary music. She is part of the intriguing and demanding LAMA trio (with bassist Gonçalo Almeida and drummer Greg Smith), leads the band Impermanence and co-leads the Life and Other Transient Storms project. She also plays often in duos, sharing ideas with colleagues from all over Europe like Torbjorn Zetterberg or Kaja Draksler.

Suggested listening:
  • LAMA + Joachim Badenhorst, Metamorphosis (Clean Feed, 2017)
  • Santos Silva, Anker, Sandell, Zetterberg, Fålt, Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed, 2016)
Julian Sartorius (Switzerland)

Swiss drummer Julian Sartorius knows how to build enchanted worlds of rhythms. As a sensitive partner of improvisers like Sylvie Courvoisier, Fred Frith or Colin Vallon, as well as an astonishing one-man band, he breaks the boundaries between jazz, abstract acoustics, concrete sounds and outer beats. His audiovisual web work Morph, is an ongoing, daily changing, sound collage.

Suggested listening:
  • Colin Vallon Trio, Danse (ECM, 2017)
  • Julian Sartorius, Zatter (Intakt, 2014)
Elias Stemeseder (Austria)

From the land of Joe Zawinul comes one of the most surprising pianists/keyboardists of these years. Still in his twenties, thanks to his oblique and intriguing approach, Elias Stemeseder has already collaborated with John Zorn and Greg Cohen and is a stable member of the Jim Black Trio. In the collective trio "Eyebone" with Black and guitarist Nels Cline he plays the Wurlitzer piano and bass synthesizers, while in the cooperative project Kin he triangulates with Francesco Diodati and Dan Kinzelman.

Suggested listening:
  • Jim Black Trio, The Constant (Intakt Records, 2016)
  • Philipp Gropper, The Madman of Naranam (WhyPlayJazz, 2015)
    Other musicians from Austria you should keep an eye on and may like:
  • Mario Rom's Interzone
  • Lukas König
Stian Westerhus (Norway)

Norwegian guitarist Stian Westerhus explores the mysterious landscapes between melody and noise. Experimental electronics, gloomy atmospheres, resonating textures: Westerhus' axe can cut the silences of a melancholic solo with voice (as in the recent, wonderful, Amputation) or in the post-blues hallucinations of the bewitched duet with the singer Sidsel Endresen. Never afraid to pump up the volume, but always ready to tear the noise cloth to unveil sensual details.

Suggested listening:
  • Stian Westerhus, Amputation (House of Mithology, 2016)
  • Sidsel Endresen & Stian Westerhus, Bonita (Rune Grammofon, 2014)



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