Burnin' Red Ivanhoe
April 22, 2006
When I stopped visiting Denmark in the mid-1970s, my reel-to-reel tapes recorded there sank deep into storage. A few chance purchases from second-hand record shops kept a small presence of Danish rock in my record collection, but I rarely listened to them.
While digitizing vinyl recently, I uncovered some of these dusty old Danish albums. My rediscovery inspired me to travel up to Hilleröd, a town 40 km north of Copenhagen. I was there to catch one of the best of the 1970s' homegrown Danish jazz-rock bands, Burnin' Red Ivanhoe.
The fact that Denmark's shores have served as a home away from for many American jazz musicians over the years is not secret. John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy recorded extensively there in the 1960s. Dexter Gordon, Kenny Drew and Horace Parlan all called Copenhagen their home. In fact, Parlan lived there to this day. Thus, it's no surprise that the flowering of a local jazz tradition in the country was inevitable.
At the end of the 1960s, a fusion of jazz and guitar-driven rock began to flourish in the country. The musical sounds pioneered by Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton were melding with jazz influences to produce a number of bands that combined flutes, saxophones, and brass instruments with guitar/bass/drum setups. These bands included Culpepper's Orchard, The Rainbow Band and Savage Rose, to name just a few. The best representative of this fusion however, may well have been a band called Burnin' Red Ivanhoe.
Founded by saxophonist Karsten Vogel and lyricist Niels-Erik Wille in 1967, the band added guitarist Ole Fick and multi-instrumentalist Kim Menzer the following year. They adopted the name of a Saxon noble mixing in contemporary politics at the time.
Combining avant-garde jazz with beat music (a Danish term for music that was being created by bands like The Who and Jefferson Airplane), Burnin' Red Ivanhoe developed a busy domestic touring and recording schedule in the late 1960s and early '70s, recording 5 studio albums and 1971's classic semi-live album Cricket Songs from Elephantwood with poet Poul Dissing.
Despite a hiatus between 1972 and 1991, nearly forty years after its inception, Burnin' Red Ivanhoe is still playing. Joined today by Mezner's son Klaus on drums, and at this concert by substitute bassist Louis Winding, this band is proving that three dinosaurs can still dig deep.
The burly Mezner took center stage. Spreading his time equally between aggressive trombone and mouth harp, as well as flute, didgeridoo, and vocals, Mezner delivered the compact energy that his physique suggests. He appeared barrel-chested with fishmonger hands and drooping slacks. A diminutive gray figure in an outsized jacket, Vogel stood stage right hunched over a keyboard emerging into the limelight with his tenor and alto saxophones. In contrast to Mezner's shuffling and gyrations, Vogel operates with a rooted intensity delivering intricate and subtle solos that have the power to match the insistent blowing of his colleague without all the insane body movement.
Behind these two was hunched the bespectacled Ole Fick, a guitarist whose work is typified on record by a restraint and minimalism not heard from many of his contemporaries. On stage, where he also shares vocal duties, his presence is more dominanttaking solos and leading melodies, often with the same restrained distorted tone that he used in the studio. Like the other musicians, his equipment was limited in complexity (though not volume). His set up included a slide, wah-wah pedal, and a Boss compression unit.
While the young rhythm section traded robust lines (and jokes), Fick set the pace and color with disciplined counter-rhythms and tones. By using lots of finger vibrato stressing individual understatement, Fick provided a strong yet subtle underpinning for his colleagues; a style that is true jazz-rock guitar.
After starting with a raucus New Orleans-style procession through the audience, led by Mezner and Vogel, the band played two long sets of songs old and new, subtle and stormy, finishing with their surrealistic 1968 theme, "Ivanhoe i Bröndbyerne."
Exploring the full range of their sonic palette, Burnin' Red Ivanhoe filled the old theatre with sounds exciting and absurd. Mezner even played bass suitcase on the classic "Canaltrip." By the end of two hours of hard work, the band left the audience storming and stomping for more. It was a night of true Danish hullabaloo from a band that refuses to keep quiet.