Fresh Danish: People Are Machines, Vogel, Solar Plexus

Anthony Shaw By

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Calibrated are a subsidiary of Cope Records, based in the Danish capital of Copenhagen. The smaller label concentrates on young, local jazz and fusion musicians beginning to make name for themselves in their own country and neighboring Nordic states.

The exception to this specialization is Calibrated's inclusion of veteran local saxophonist Karsten Vogel. But Vogel has continued to experiment in his musical partnerships, often with younger experimental musicians. His latest album, reviewed below, finds him working for the first time with a world music specialist, the Indian violinist Dr L Subramaniam.

These three discs are a random selection selected from Calibrated's 2007 catalogue.

People Are Machines
People Are Machines

Not people and machines, or as machines, or even versus machines. People Are Machines are four young Danish musicians who have built up a following in the Nordic countries, playing tight energetic tunes of their own, with each member here contributing to the writing, led by pianist Magnus Hjorth with three tunes, and bassist Petter Eldh with two. Although recorded in just three days, the seven tracks present a band with depth of feel as well as musicianship.

The pieces are based around a melodic saxophone-keyboard lead not dissimilar to Danish jazz-rock bands of the 1970s like Burnin Red Ivanhoe and Secret Oyster. But PAM's style is tighter and musically more adventurous, with pieces which progress intricately yet smoothly, and which incorporate very tight solo work by all four members. Hjorth's piano plays a dominant role, as both lead and rhythmic force, but without ever swamping the sound, and Marius Neset finds many good nuanced tones on the saxophone.

PAM represent another articulate face of contemporary young Scandinavian smooth jazz alongside the likes of trumpet-piano led Ilmiliekki from Finland, and Janne Heiskanen's guitar-saxophone outfit from Sweden. There might be a hint here and there of saxophonist John Coltrane in the early 1960s, playing with pianist Mal Waldron, especially on the strident first two tracks. But in general this is soft jazz with a rounded sound and an edge that is no doubt sharper in concert. And, despite the group name, it is in no way mechanical.

Dr L Subramaniam & Karsten Vogel

Although the official accreditation puts the Indian violinist first, it is veteran saxophonist Karsten Vogel who is the inspiration behind this release. Along with long-term associate Ole Fick on guitar, and Klaus Menzer on drums, this is primarily a Danish disc, with Subramaniam contributing on four of the six tracks. He brings to the occasion his percussive, echoey rhythms, which seem to inspire the Danes to fluid, almost psychedelic, raga-like performances, even when playing without him. Listen to the meandering, mesmerizing third track, "Tandoori."

The album's inspiration is a meeting of East and West, with Karsten and Fick following their leaning towards the East, which they indulged in their pioneering 1970s prog-jazz days playing "Rotating Irons" or "Avez Vous Kaskelainen?" This was with the highly influential band Burnin Red Ivanhoe, which carried the standard of Danish jazz (inspired by the visits of Coltrane, reed player Eric Dolphy, saxophonist Albert Ayler and others in the 1960s) to the "hippy generation." Vogel continued his dalliance with electronica with another stalwart Danish fusion band of the time, Secret Oyster, and since those days has been involved with the younger generation of Danish jazz musicians. In contrast to these projects of the 1990s, Vogel had little, if any, prior involvement with ethnic music.

Subramaniam has produced a number of solo albums, but is better known as a sideman, having played his classically rooted, southern Indian styled violin with guitarist Larry Coryell in the 1970s, and contributed to projects alongside the likes of fellow violinists Yehudi Menuhin, Stephane Grappelli, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Jean-Luc Ponty, as well as bassist Stanley Clarke and pianist Herbie Hancock. His association with Vogel may be short-lived, but this disc is evidence of his inspiration and influence on the often vitriolic Dane. On the final, nearly 14-minute "Afternoon Silk" he provokes the saxophonist to explore more meditative structures, while also stretching his own technique to match that of his collaborator.

Solar Plexus
Shows Pink

Keyboard player Michel Heise is not widely known outside Copenhagen jazz circles, where he has established something of a following with his band Solar Plexus. This release features fellow Danes Kaspar Vadsholt on bass and Francis Norgard on drums, comprising the core trio, a keyboard led fusion unit tackling a selection of eight tracks, recorded live at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse. Of these, five are covers from a broad spectrum of composers, with the first two tunes coming from the diverse pens of Richard Strauss and Jim Morrison.

Central to these pieces, and obviously prominent in his own compositions, are Heise's keyboards, inspiring comparisons with veteran British prog practitioners Vincent Crane (Atomic Rooster) and Dave Stewart (Hatfield & The North, National Health). This music is maybe not as original as that of those pioneers, but achieves a similar result. Time signatures are less complex, and evolutions are essentially defined by the interplay of colour and expression between Heise's three different instruments—Wurlitzer, Hohner and Korg. Within these parameters the band achieves an interesting mix of mood, as, notably, on their swirling rendition of Count Basie's "Li'l Darlin'." They run it close at times but generally manage to avoid the pyrotechnical excesses of other keyboard-driven power trios, in no small part due to the presence of Niels Vincentz on soprano saxophone.

It is on the tracks where the band plays as a quartet that the balance is most complementary and the sound most complete. At these times there is genuine interplay and tension, trades and duels—which the trio only approximate on the closing title track. But this is nevertheless an entertaining album. One request for the future: more of those genuinely integrated sounds please, Mr Heise.

Tracks and Personnel

People Are Machines

Tracks: Blame Wilhelm; Artificial Turf; Splinter; Babyliss Moments; Prime Time; D.S; Plain/Plane.

Personnel: Marius Neset: tenor saxophone; Magnus Hjorth: piano; Petter Eldh: bass; Anton Eger: drums.


Tracks: Morning Beauty; MG Road; Tandoori; Five O'Clock Twins; Robannas Playground; Afternoon Silk.

Personnel: Karsten Vogel: tenor & alto saxophone; Dr L Subramaniam: violin; Ole Fick: guitar; Klaus Menzer: percussion.

Shows Pink

Tracks: Also Sprach Zarathustra; Light My Fire; China Syndrome; Li'l Darlin'; Funky Town; Freedom Jazzdance; Suture; Solar Plexus Shows Pink.

Personnel: Michel Heise: Wurlitzer, Hohner D6, Korg C3; Kaspar Vadsholt, Francis Nørgård: drums; Niels Vincentz: soprano saxophone (2,4,6).


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