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Summer Jazz and Fringe Jazz Fest in Copenhagen

Summer Jazz and Fringe Jazz Fest in Copenhagen
Jakob Baekgaard By

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Summer Jazz & Fringe Jazz Fest
Various Venues
Copenhagen and Valby, Denmark
July 6-8, 2018

This year, Copenhagen Jazz Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary. It's a lot of years with a lot of music and the tendency has been unequivocal. The festival has been growing with new venues and artists added to a seemingly endless list. Part of this process has been the emergence of sub-festivals. Festivals within the festival. An example is saxophonist Benjamin Koppel's Summer Jazz, which takes place in the Betty Nansen Theatre in Frederiksberg and in Prøvehallen in Valby from July 6-14. Another saxophonist, Johan Bylling Lang, is the man behind Fringe Jazz Fest in central Copenhagen that covers the same time span. It takes place in Pumpehuset and the garden outside the venue.

Both festivals have existed for some time now, but especially Bylling Lang's Fringe Jazz Fest has raised its profile in recent years with the move from the charming venue Charlie Scott's to the bigger capacity provided by Pumpehuset. Koppel has also branched out. Summer Jazz started as a local festival in the suburb of Valby and now encompasses both Valby and Frederiksberg, Copenhagen.

Sampling the program of these two festivals for a few days provided an irresistible opportunity to connect dots in jazz history. In fact, hearing the music on these festivals was a chance to move from the cradle of jazz to the golden age of jazz in Denmark right up to a redefinition of what jazz can be today. The common denominator was respect for tradition.

Fringe Jazz Fest is a celebration of New Orleans culture and music. The program this year was varied, covering everything from slick funk to modern mainstream jazz, a brass band, vocal soul jazz and the upcoming sound of New Orleans today.

Six City Stompers opened the festival with their untraditional take on traditional jazz music with strong ties to New Orleans. Mads Mathias is the band's singer and saxophonist and one of Denmark's best crooners along with Bobo Moreno, who also played at Fringe Jazz. Mathias and the rest of the band swung using instruments such as banjo and flugabone, but added a modern approach to the music. One of the joys of hearing the band is to experience the simple joy they transmit. In the garden outside Pumpehuset, a varied audience of all ages, many wearing yellow Fringe Jazz sunglasses, clearly enjoyed the music and the notes mixed with the scent of the Cajun food provided by street kitchen El Jefe. The concert ended with a true New Orleans classic "Little Liza Jane" and the scene was set for native saxophonist James Martin and his band.

Martin was here, there and everywhere during the festival, but one of his main gigs was with his own band. Back in 2017, he released the album Something's Gotta Give. This album was showcased at his concert in Pumpehuset with tight funk pieces such as "Maintain Composure" and the title track. Instead of a bass, the bass notes were provided by a giant sousaphone with a banner saying James Martin Band. Martin's tone on the horn is both gritty and smooth, at times resembling David Sanborn, and he also proved to be a good entertainer. However, the idea of filming the audience and taking a selfie came across as a bit tacky and was a reminder that social media is best avoided at a concert, but admittedly it was a good strategy to engage the audience.

The next band, New Orleans sensation Tank and the Bangas, also used mobil phones, but in a subtler way. The closing of the concert became a moment of unity with the light of the phones shining like twinkling stars. Until then, Tank and the band had steered the concert with dramaturgic precision and served a tasty gumbo of sounds, including hip hop, pop, R&B, jazz and heavy metal. Tank divided the audience into one's, two's and three's and made them battle against each other to show their excitement. The band created a theatre of movement with rock moves, cool play and robotic gimmicks and synchronic signs. However, at the heart of it all was a sincere desire to communicate through music and words. Thus, during the concert, Tank recited a freshly written poem about New Orleans. There was also a brief detour to Seattle with a surprising cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that underlined the eclectic nature of the band where high decibel rock rituals were complemented by more mellow moments like the new single "Smoke Netflix Chill."

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