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Jakob Bro, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan at DR Koncerthuset Copenhagen

Henning Bolte By

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Jakob Bro, Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan
DR Koncerthuset (Danish Broadcasting Corporation)
Balladeering tour
Copenhagen, Denmark
May 15, 2015

In Copenhagen on May 15th, at the new concert hall of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation: acclaimed Danish film director Jørgen Leth welcomed an audience of 800 spectators to announce the closing segment of the "Balladeering" tour by Jakob Bro, Lee Konitz, Thomas Morgan and Bill Frisell Ina Denmark (Aarhus, Copenhagen), Iceland (Reykjavik), Norway (Oslo), Faroe Islands (Torshavn) and Greenland (Taseralik).

The travel route and places on this seven-day tour alone were a special kind of concentrated and impressive experience. It all took place in an area between longitude 12 east and 53 west, and between latitude 55 and 66 north. Not only the extreme weather conditions, but above all the breath-taking landscapes made a mark on the musicians' and film crew's minds and souls. They experienced the ever changing rough weather of the isolated Faroe Islands archipelago, surrounded by the vast Atlantic Ocean and the huge snow and ice covered landmass of Greenland. You can never be sure if weather conditions will allow airplane take-offs or landings there, but the equipment saw good luck in both cases for the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Full circle

Jørgen Leth joined the tour to shoot pictures for his new movie. The working title is Out Of The Night, with release planned for the fall of 2016. For him, things have come full circle: in the 1950s and '60s he was a distinctive jazz writer in Danish newspapers, but left during the second half of the '60s. His first film in 1963 was a portrait of American jazz pianist Bud Powell.

In 2008, Bro invited Leth to a session at the Avatar studio in New York, the first "Balladeering" recording with Konitz and the last one with Paul Motian, whose influence remains clearly felt. "It was a thrill to meet Konitz, a hero from my early years as a jazz writer in the '60s, and it was an even bigger thrill to see and hear him doing his amazing balladering thing with Jakob. It revived old connections, ignited something," Leth confessed. During the two subsequent recordings, Leth stayed engaged on the sidelines. When Bro prepared the music of this extraordinary group for a live audience, he stepped into the center. The seed had germinated and definitely turned him on. He set up his very own Out-Of-The-Night project, joined by his regular cinematographer Dan Holmberg as director of photography, and a team including award-winning Danish filmmaker Andreas Koefoed (Weapons Smuggling, Ballroom Dancer), Greenland's Silis Hoegh (Sume—The sound of a revolution) and Sune Blicher (Weightless—a Recording Session with Jakob Bro) from Denmark. They joined the expedition to Greenland, Iceland, The Faroe Islands and Norway. Bro wanted to bring the musicians and their music to places that had been inspirational for him and share it with the musicians by performing the music there. Evidently, it had to start in Aarhus, where both Bro and Leth grew up in different times. By connecting with each other, their different cycles intersect at one common point, in the person of Lee Konitz. Their cooperation deals with music as a part of life cycles, and with the triangle of Bro-Konitz- Leth..

Leth

Jørgen Leth (1937-) has been one of the most illustrious and agile figures of contemporary Danish cultural life. He worked as an art critic (jazz, cinema, theatre) for leading Danish newspapers, was engaged in filmmaking, published 10 volumes of poetry and eight non-fiction books and acted as a sports commentator for Danish television for 20 years. Leth made his first film in 1963 about pianist Bud Powell and has since made 40 more films, many distributed worldwide. His most acclaimed is a 1967 short film, The Perfect Human, which is also featured in the movie The Five Obstructions (2003) by Leth and Lars von Trier. Leth's sports documentaries bring an epic, almost mythic, dimension to the field, as in Stars and Watercarriers (Stjernerne og Vandbærerne) (1973) and A Sunday In Hell (En forårsdag i helvede) (1977). Leth was an eager traveller and moved to Haiti to live there from the '90s until 2010, when the Haiti earthquake destroyed his home and most of his possessions. In 2013 he returned to Haiti for temporary stays. . leads Leth back from the equatorial tropical area to the (sub)arctic part of the world high in the north.

Starting point

Konitz, a proud advanced octogenarian, was not only at the center of the performance. He has found himself in Bro's Balladeering thing in a surprisingly new role. In the beginning of their collaboration he wondered what he was doing: "I spent my whole life influenced by Charlie Parker, Lennie Tristano, Lester Young, and all the great players. All of a sudden, I play whole notes and half notes and chord progressions and I don't know why," he remarked. "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." Konitz, a quite critical mind, not only adopted the new role quickly but showed a keen interest in continuing on that route, which ultimately resulted in the trilogy of Balladeering, Time and December Song which came about as an unintended consequence of circumstances.

Leesing

Crucial for the "Balladeering" project is the interweaving of an undulating sound flow and the quality of a central voice. The central voice is not only carried by the other musicians; both parties sing the song, albeit differently. Right from the beginning, Konitz intoned the melody of each piece, but instead of repeating and then as usual—varying, extending and modifying it instrumentally—he used his voice to sing the continuations. His vocal continuations had a special quality, not only in terms of contrast of instrumental sound and human voice but especially in the rhythmical- melodic intertwining. His vocals reminded of the dry rhythmical flow of Astrud Gilberto but also of the way Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian sings the songs of Komitas. It is maybe an unusual combination of associations but it indicates that the vocals presented lightly in the performance came from a deep source.

The singing was not just a more informal, less serious, singalong mode of music-making. It was genuine and turned out to be essential in this context. Not only by contrast did it emphasize his saxophone playing; it seemed that Konitz went into it because of the very nature of the balladeering music. Also, the music and music- making became more personal and vulnerable by the vocals, and shed light on his instrumental music.

Motianechoes and Fata Morganas

The concert opened with "Vraa" and "Evening Sun," two pieces from the first album of the trilogy. "Vraa" introduced the bearable lightness of Bro's music right away and in "Evening Song," starting with Konitz's intoning vocals, the lightness of the undulating flow began to flourish, luxuriating. The guitars even slightly touched Hawaiian realms. The flowing intertwinement of the three string instruments was amazing. The guitar lines snaked, diverging and converging in delicately hovering interplay. It never became dull, especially due to the stunning way Morgan plucked his bass—a sensation of a special kind. The bass sang, grooved and pushed in masterful balance. Even when the floating sounds seemed to disappear behind the horizon, Morgan brought them back to the fore in full flame. The musicians' enjoyment of this cinematic game was visible and sensible. "Giant" then was a piece of great, touching momentum with far echoes from Motianistan and subtleties of a kind, especially in Frisell's playing. As a fitting contrast it was followed by "Cirkler," from the album Time—a simple, catchy song with an infectious groove.

The group continued with "Laxness," like "Giant" from the third album December Song. "Laxness" was a piece of pouring light with a special feel of both stasis and slow, effluent motion, a wonderful example of singing over and singing into ambient sound. "Terrace Place," with its pendulum motion, reached a point of dissolving and fused into the whirring second part of the piece "Starting Point," both from the initial album. It all culminated in the magnificent, celebratory "Vinterhymne," the closing piece of the trilogy's last album. The music expanded freely with great richness of light and color, played by musicians who apparently felt at home, seduced and seducing each other to a rare kind of musical purity. "Thinging," Konit's great piece fitted in wonderfully here as an encore and was given a lively, flying quality—Broadway merged into Northern (fl)air, and vice versa. It will be definitely full circle as soon as Leth's footage has been cut, ready for screening.

Balladeering Tour

Aarhus concert reviewed by Jakob Bækgaard

Reykjavik concert reviewed by Ian Patterson
About Jakob Bro
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