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Jakob Bro: A Happy Unintended Consequence with Kenny Wheeler

Henning Bolte By

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A while ago a group of Danish musicians recorded an album entitled "Unintended Consequences." It was an enterprise to play music in a non-intentional way which demanded dealing with the paradox of intending something unintended. Sometimes however unintended consequences can "just happen" due to circumstances. That is what Danish guitarist Jakob Bro experienced a time ago. It had a significant impact on how his music developed and got shape on three subsequent albums.

For a recording in 2008 he had set up a session at Avatar Studios in New York and written music for two horns, for Kenny Wheeler on trumpet/fluegelhorn and Lee Konitz on alto saxophone, as well as for Bill Frisell, Ben Street and Paul Motian. But right before the session something happened. "The whole session was set up and I had sent the music to Kenny," says Bro. "On the day of departure, going to New York, Kenny called me up and said he had the advice of his doctor not to travel. His foot was swollen and so he was really bummed out. He had been looking forward to recording with Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, Lee Konitz and Ben Street. But there was no way he could do it. It was too dangerous for him."

Then a young bandleader, Bro had to take a decision to cope with it. "I went to New York and thought what should I do? Should I record just one horn player or ... . I actually brought in a friend of mine, Jakob Buchanan who plays fluegelhorn as well. I thought maybe he could step in and do something. But I did not want to use him in the beginning. I wanted to see how it would sound with just Lee," Bro recounts.

Wait and see ... it seemed the music worked out its own solution. There was some surprise and change of direction happening. "It was basically the beginning of my whole trilogy because Lee would not play the melody as written," says Bro. "He would interpret them from the very beginning. The fact that he had so much space around him, being the only horn player, basically created the sound of these three records."

Even Konitz was wondering what he was doing then: "I spent my whole life being influenced by Charlie Parker, Lennie Tristano, Lester Young and all the great jazz players and all of a sudden I play whole notes and half notes and chord progressions and I don't know why," Konitz says. "It's not folk music, it's not jazz, it's not pop music, it's not funk, you know, it's just balladeering or whatever." It was a wondrous and wonderful thing, a blessing that it could happen. It became a trilogy, Balladeering (2009), Time (2011) and December Song (2013). Kenny Wheeler could not make it for the first recoding session and drummer Paul Motian passed away in November 2011. Bro did not replace Motian, who can nonetheless be sensed clearly on both Time and December Song.

Two years later, in 2010, Bro started to work on the Bro/Knak album which was released in 2012. The first part of that album contains pieces and variations of Bro compositions in various lineups. The second part of the album consists of rebuilds of those pieces by electronic musician Thomas Knak. Bro says, "I was still eager to do something with Kenny. Let's try it on this record with Knak, [I thought], and I invited him. He actually played on a few tracks but it ended up being only one track [on the album]. For me it was a beautiful experience. He was pretty amazing. Basically Kenny could not walk anymore at that time. It was just remarkable how he still could play. We all wondered how it was possible."

The recording session happened prior to the annual Danish summer school in Vallekilde, at the countryside one hour from Copenhagen. It was directed by Bro in those days. This time, in a way, it was the other way round. "James Blood Ulmer, Marc Ribot, Thomas Morgan, Andrew Cyrille, Bob Moses, Jeff Ballard, all these guys were there," Bro recalls. "Kenny Wheeler came together with John Taylor to share an ensemble. Lee Konitz was also invited to instruct an ensemble of his own but canceled last minute and Chris Speed took his place instead."

Wheeler recorded "Color Sample" for the Bro/Knak album, with cellist Jakob Kullberg, harpist Tine Rehling, drummer Jakob Hoyer and Bro, on guitar and vocals, at STC studios in Copenhagen. The session was documented on film by Sune Blicher and Andreas Koefoed—two Danish filmmakers who also collaborated on Weightless-a recording session with Jakob Bro (2009). The short film from the recording session in Copenhagen is a touching farewell to this extraordinary musician and his unique sound. It captures his fragility together with his significant breaking trumpet lines sounding out, irresistibly, into eternal space. Kenny Wheeler died September 18, 2014, at the age of 84.



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