Denmark has nurtured an active jazz scene since the '20s and Copenhagen has been home to expatriate musicians since the '50s. Today, Danish artists like Jesper Lovdal, Jonas Westergaard, Jonas Struck and Kasper Tranberg are making themselves heard on this side of the Atlantic.
Løvdal's Free Fall includes fellow Dane Westergaard on bass, pianist Sam Yahel and drummer Jeff Ballard on a mostly original set. The leader's tenor sax is husky and lithe, his soprano sinuous and lyrical, artfully dodging around the key on "Roots." Yahel's judicious use of space, carefully constructed melodies and diverse textures are best exemplified on "Apollo Voyage Suite." On "Still Good," soprano and piano juggle soloing chores back and forth several times, with supple encouragement from bass and drums; "Two Not One" ends with an empathetic tenor/drum duet.
Thunderstrucks is Struck (guitar), Tranberg (trumpet/cornet), Anders Christensen (bass) and Kresten Osgood (drums), a highly accessible project with rock overtones. Like Free Fall, the band achieves a balanced, close-knit sound. The compositions, all by Struck (with a little help from his friends), are of a piece, many of them polymodal, pitched in guitar-friendly keys and employing contrasting major and minor thirds. The group generates affecting ambiance: a snug trumpet/drums link-up on "Soundcheck"; subtle shifts of mood and mode during "Goin' Up the Country"; slow-rising gestures and fragmented swing in "Movements" and a kaleidoscopic play of colors on "Motives/Chinese Lover," the episodic centerpiece anchored by Osgood's pliant rhythms.
Westergaard leads his own date on Helgoland, a little-big band outing highlighting his compositional and arranging acumen. The charts exhibit scope and variety: the title track and "Until It's Time" are voiced with lush, swelling chords; "One Over the Hill" has intricate counterpoint between the brass and reeds and "Red River" and ..."and they'll take what you got" utilize the five-horn frontline as variant voices on a theme, exploiting different combinations in unison to create subtle gradations of tone. The melodies blend mainstream jazz ideas with folksy flavors. Alto saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen exudes cool passion on the opening cut, building to a shrieking peak, only to land softly, then takes another fine turn on the final track. Guitarist Jakob Bro and pianist Soren Kjaergaard play together like twin brothers: their tandem soloing on "One Over the Hill" is seamlessly collaborative and their bell-like blend on the intro to "Levitated" is delicately imbricated. Jakob Høyer's drums mesh well with the leader's bass to weave the whole fabric together.
Tracks & Personnel
Tracks: Free Fall; Reedman Redman; Flowers; Roots; Other Roots; Apollo Voyage Suite; Still Good; Two Not One.
Personnel: Jesper Løvdal: tenor & soprano saxophone; Sam Yahel: piano; Jonas Westergaard: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums & percussion.
Tracks: Prelude; Doris Day; Soundcheck; Dark Prague; Motives/Chinese Lover; Psalm; Thunder Revue; Goin' Up the Country/Burlesque with Betty; Movements; Stilstandstilstand.
Personnel: Kasper Tranberg: trumpet & cornet; Jonas Struck: guitars; Anders Christensen: acoustic & electric bass; Kresten Osgood: drums & percussion.
Tracks: Helgoland; Dream; One Over the Hill; Red River; ...and they'll take what you got; Levitated; Until It's Time.
Personnel: Jonas Westergaard: bass; Peter Fuglsang: clarinet, bass clarinet, flute; Jesper Zeuthen: alto saxophone; Niels Vincentz: tenor saxophone, flute; Kasper Tranberg: trumpet; Mads Hyhne: trombone; Jakob Bro: guitar; Søren Kjærgaard: piano, Fender Rhodes, celeste; Jakob Høyer: drums.