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Alex Riel

Alex Riel was born September 1940 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has since the sixties remained firmly established as one of the most significant and influential jazz drummers in Europe. His career began in the early sixties where he was the house drummer at the legendary jazz club "Montmartre" in Copenhagen. The rhythm section also included bass player Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and alternately pianists Tete Montuliu and Kenny Drew. During this time Alex Riel got to accompany a vast number of visiting international stars as Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Dorham, Don Byas, Donald Byrd, Yusef Lateef and many more.

This experience led to Alex Riel being chosen as the “Danish Jazz Musician Of the Year” in 1965, and shortly hereafter he released his first recording as a bandleader. It was a trio recording with Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and Kenny Drew which has now become collector’s item. In 1965-66 Alex Riel also toured in Europe as a member of the renowned pianist Bill Evans’ trio with bassist Eddie Gomez.

Over the years Alex Riel has played with an impressive number of fine jazz musicians representing both the traditional and the modern way. His very first impression of jazz drumming was that of Big Sid Catlett and Zutty Zingleton, and this early influence is still perceptible in his playing. However Riel’s appearance with musicians such as Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean, Archie Shepp, Michel Petrucciani, Gary Burton, John Scofield etc has made him widely known as an outstanding modern drummer taking up the styles of drummers Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes and Tony Williams.

Alex Riel has also been working a great deal outside the jazz area. He was a founding member of “The Savage Rose” - one of the most significant Scandinavian rock groups ever " with whom he recorded several albums. They toured extensively around Europe and US in the late 60s and early 70s. In 1969 they played at the original Newport Festival in USA where they shared the stage with Jethru Tull and James Brown. In addition to this, Alex Riel has drawn attention to himself as a rock drummer through his long time work with the successful Danish singer and composer Sebastian. Riel has furthermore been playing in a number of jazz-rock fusion bands, among them the succesfull Danish fusion band "Santa Cruz".

Ever since the late 50’s Alex Riel has played as a sideman on several hundred jazz recordings with various international artists. During the last decade he’s been releasing CD’s in his own name as well. These recordings are featuring contemporary stars such as Jerry Bergonzi, Michael Brecker, Kenny Werner and Mike Stern, but also “old” favourites like trumpet player Harry Sweet Edison, sax player Charlie Mariano and bassist Eddie Gomez.

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Album Review
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"Riel, the Great Dane of European jazz drummers, joins the realm of the New York neo-bop crowd for his fourth disc as a leader. Tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, bassist Eddie Gomez, and either guitarist Mike Stern or pianist Niels Lan Doky, are more than equal partners, while Michael Brecker joins Gonz on the front line for two tracks. Riel is an exceptional timekeeper and unique in that he is able to create improvisations within a steady rhythmic framework that is intense and frenetic." [... ] "It's clear these are experts in their field, and Riel is comfortably in their league. Further evidence is included in an extensive, perhaps complete, amazing discography printed in the booklet of this CD. It's proof positive that Europe has at least one precious percussive jazz commodity America lacks." (AllMusic about UNRIEL)

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Full House

Storyville Records


Live At Stars

ITM Records



Stunt Records/Sundance Music



ITM Records



ITM Records




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