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The Art of ILK

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Formed in 2007, ILK (an abbreviation of Independent Label of København) is an artist-run label based in Copenhagen, encompassing a collective of 21 adventurous musicians. They started out as the young rebels of the Danish jazz scene but have become the established pioneers of the new Danish avantgarde. If you think of the avantgarde as an island of likeminded musicians then the great achievement of ILK is that the label has blurred the boundaries between high art, academic research, popular music, and jazz. The young rebels have become older, but they are as vital as ever, still curious, ambitious, and playful. This selection of releases from the label, covering everything from abstract funk to piano trio jazz and bold multimedia works, shows that the art of ILK is very much alive.

Niels Vincentz / Søren Kjærgaard / Thomas Morgan / Billy Hart
The Vertical Perspective
ILK Music
2020

An impromptu concert in 2013 during Copenhagen Jazz Festival was the beginning of a quartet featuring saxophonist Niels Vincentz , pianist Soren Kjaergaard, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Billy Hart. It would be tempting to classify this constellation as a super group based on the reputation these musicians have earned on the Danish and American jazz scene. It would also be wrong insofar as a super group often implies the meeting of big egos whereas this music in many ways is about erasing egos.

The lineup with piano, bass, drums, and saxophone is conventional, but the music is far from ordinary. This doesn't mean that the group is not historically informed. Swing, bop, modal music, avantgarde and rubato balladry. All these layers can be found in the music, which is predominantly lyrical, but not shy about swinging, as can be heard on the opener, "Vertical," penned by Kjærgaard. He contributes three other tracks, "Tripple Skip," "Ballad no. 4" and "Row no. 18" that can also be heard on the albums Syvmileskridt (ILK, 2014) and Femklang (ILK, 2011) with a trio consisting of Kjærgaard, bassist Ben Street and drummer Andrew Cyrille. Not surprisingly, there's the same tentative approach as can be heard in the trio where rhythmic shapes and melodies emerge and disappear in flux, but the big difference is Vincentz whose lyrical nerve, reminiscent of John Coltrane, gives the album a feeling of a free form Kind of Blue without Miles Davis' trumpet. The closer, "Broken Flowers," is composed by the late bassist and composer Nicolai Munch-Hansen and shows what a melodically gifted writer he was.

Niels Vincentz / Søren Kjærgaard / Thomas Morgan / Billy Hart
Heaven in a Wildflower
ILK Music
2020

The Vertical Perspective was recorded in 2017, four years after the quartet played together for the first time, but with such singular chemistry as the record shows, it's not surprising that the group recorded another album the following year.

Heaven in a Wildflower takes its name from William Blake's poem "Auguries of Innocence" with the famous opening lines: "To see a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour." It's tempting to say that Blake describes improvisation at its highest level. At least, these musicians unfold a universe of sound through the smallest details. There's a wealth of shades in Billy Hart's cymbals and Thomas Morgan's bass is both grounded and spacious and allows the music to float with a free pulse. The percussive ticking of the clock heard at the beginning of "Little One" is transformed into free time, but Morgan temporarily takes over and plays the rigid rhythm on the bass. Eternity and earthly time meet as the bell-like patterns of Kjærgaard's piano and transparent saxophone lines from Vincentz add another dimension to the music.

Generally, the mood is more introvert this time. Vincentz once again contributes two compositions while the rest of the music is composed by Kjærgaard. His Meridiana pieces, originally written for string quartet, underline the intimate nature of the music, both closed and communicative. Suddenly a playful little piano line in "4 x 12" underlines that this is not only serious and solemn music, but also about the joy of finding a musical language together.

All Too Human
Because You Are Worth It
ILK Music
2020

All Too Human is a group led by drummer and composer Peter Bruun. On Because You're Worth It, he finds a way of breathing new life into the avantgarde. "All Too Disko" immediately sets the tone for a spacy set that isn't afraid to groove. Who knows how people will dance to the funky clipped Moog-beat with disco syncopations, synthesizer-fanfares, and oriental motifs on muted trumpet? A new dance called do the robot comes to mind.

The music changes from meditative spaced-out moments to full frenetic workouts and something in-between. Electric and acoustic sounds overlap to create a constant flow of surprises where the dwelling piano intro of the title track eventually gives way to a swampy ballad with broken beats.

Bruun has gathered a team of futuristic musketeers that are able to go in any musical direction. Marc Ducret's guitar is knotty, but still with a funky touch, and Anders Banke adds saxophones, clarinets and flutes. Kasper Tranberg is the one who often cuts through with a clear melody on trumpet or cornet while Simon Toldam is a fountain of sound. The beat and groove masters are Bruun and Petter Eldh who have also produced the album. As an extra bonus, the album, released on vinyl, also includes a magic mirror and eight animated phenakistoscopes.

Jesper Zeuthen / Jacob Anderskov / Anders Vestergaard
Ecstatic Embrace
ILK Music
2020

After the futuristic avant-funk of All Too Human with an overwhelming range of sound sources from 12-string guitar to Mikrokorg and Moog, it's nice to be reminded that it doesn't have to take more than three acoustic instruments to push the boundaries of sound. At least when the piano is played by Jacob Anderskov, the drums by Anders Vestergaard and the saxophone by Jesper Zeuthen.

When the iconic avant-garde drummer Paul Lovens heard the musicians, he praised them by saying: "You guys are among the few people that do the ecstatic embrace." The term stuck with the band and is adopted as the title for their second album that continues the aesthetic of the debut, Out of the Spectacle (ILK, 2018). It introduced their unique approach to improvisation that benefits from the lack of a bass. Instead, it's the waves of Anderskov's piano and the crashing sound of Vestergaard's percussion that carry the music while Zeuthen appears as a crying sailor caught in a maelstrom.

The album was recorded live in Koncertkirken during the 2019 edition of Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Amazingly, the music that is heard is created on the spot. There are only two sections, "Part I" and "Part II." Together they form an epic journey that builds up with a prolonged introduction by Anderskov and Vestergaard. After nearly five minutes, Zeuthen enters and things are not the same. He starts slowly, but firmly, before he finally lets the water boil and screams higher and higher until he calms down and disappears at the end of the first part. The opening of the second part is the antidote to the restless, chaotic mood of the first part. The piano lines are glittering like shiny pebbles in sand, and Zeuthen breathes lovely lyrical lines. It's the quiet after the storm, but of course they can't help themselves, and once again the music builds up to a climax and there it stops, at the edge of a cliff, in an ecstatic embrace.

Mikkel Mark Trio
A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes
ILK Music
2020

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes is a very different trio record than Ecstatic Embrace. It's a classic piano trio record by the underrated Danish pianist, Mikkel Mark, supported by bassist Anders Christensen and drummer Kresten Osgood.

Mark has previously released two albums in 2015 on ILK, Healing and Touching. They introduced him to a wider audience than the close- knit community of admirers that already knew him, but fascinatingly, Mark seems to stand outside the commercial circuit, seemingly caring little about exposure and hype. He releases records in his own pace, and now, five years later, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes is here. Once again, Mark has penned beautiful and thoughtful liner notes that speak about an artist open to the impressions of music. He doesn't compose himself. He plays other people's music and makes it his own. Even a very familiar piece like Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunesia" sparkles again when Mark hits the keys followed closely by his compatriots. The language of the trio is tight and yet bouncing, heavy and light, earthy and dreamy. Whether they play a tune by Bill Evans, a Swedish folk song, or standards, they find the essence of the music as they hear it, and it sounds both familiar and fresh.

Adjectives to describe Mark's style would be unpretentious, warm, lyrical, and exploratory. There's an almost childlike sense of wonder that comes through in his playing, and yet it is technically assured. Mark has no problems playing J.S. Bach, as evidenced by his version of "Allemande from French Suite No. 3," found on Touching, and the complex language of bop sounds easy in his hands. The point is not to show off but show what music can do. It can bring feelings forth and heal. It adds to the intimacy of the album that it is recorded live and the joy of playing comes through. The audience who heard the music were lucky and so are those listeners who discover this record. It's not revolutionary in any way, it's just very sincere and beautiful music.

Mark Solborg
TUNGEMÅL I-II
ILK Music
2020

In poetry, there's a whole genre dedicated to reflections about the nature of poetry. It's called poetics. It's a genre that allows poets to think about their craft, but a poetics can also be almost like a poem, approaching the language of poetry, just as a poem can contain a poetics.

The Danish guitarist, composer and graphic artist, Mark Solborg, has made a highly ambitious musical poetics where theory and practice overlap. The project is called Tungemål (tongue) and consists of two volumes that include 148 minutes of music on three CDs and two beautiful hardback books with corresponding reflections, graphic illustrations, scores, and footage. Volume I features the solo guitar of Solborg while Volume II includes collaborations with reedists Lars Greve and Francesco Bigoni and pianist Simon Toldam.

To quote Solborg's website the project is "an extensive artistic study and qualifying awareness of the modern guitar in interplay with acoustic instruments, and the musical spaces they inhabit." Furthermore, the study asks a series of questions: "How do you talk -alone and with others -when you are the only one that is being translated through a loudspeaker?.. is it possible to play both acoustically and electrified -simultaneously?.. and can you get closer to the intimate speaking voice of the creating musician?" These are questions Solborg tries to explore in his work. It is both a very personal examination of his own voice (or tongue) on the guitar and it's an investigation of the limits and nature of the instrument itself.

It's refreshing when an artist dares to think so deeply about music and documents the process so others can be inspired. Fortunately, it's not only interesting in theory, but in practice as well, or said in another way: It's clear that the theory is born as much out of practice as the theory is developed before practice. Solborg's music often seems to be in a state of becoming and the beauty of these pieces lies in the way that they both seem finished and open, melodic and abstract, electric and acoustic. There are echoes of other guitar traditions from the American primitive music of John Fahey to the free form abstractions of Derek Bailey, but through it all, it's possible to sense Solborg's personal guitar voice coming to terms with what it means to play guitar.

A cliché in music writing is the question of what were you thinking when you wrote that piece? This is a serious attempt to answer that difficult question and the result is a sprawling multimedia work of art that opens new vistas for the guitar and Solborg's own music.

Müntzing / Wikström / Callesen
Ping Pong Punktum
ILK Music
2020

Ping Pong Punktum is another ambitious multimedia-release from ILK. It's a collaboration between the musicians and sound artists, Herman Müntzing and Quarin Wikström, and visual artist Jan Oksbøl Callesen. The release comes as an art book with a cassette that also has a built-in USB.

The idea is to examine the relationship between sound and vision. How is color translated into sound and sound into color? Each composition is reflected by a visual piece or vice versa, and each collaborative piece has a title such as the humorously titled "I did clean my room, probably." However, the titles should not be seen as a restrictive way of experiencing the work as the artists point out in the notes:

"The titles for the pieces should simply be regarded as inspirational introductions and initial access points to the material. Allow your imagination to take over, and explore your own connections between sights and sound, seen and heard, observed and absorbed."

The goal is not to provide definitive answers, but rather to start an investigative process and this is a process both for the listener and the artists. The music as well as the artworks lean towards the abstract, but when the artists talk about "so-called 'abstract art" in the notes, the ironic distance indicates that they see this way of experiencing as more concrete than classic mimetic representation. It's an old avantgarde discussion, most eloquently formulated by Rene Magritte in his painting Ceci n'est pas une pipe (1929). The thing represented isn't the thing itself, and so the real thing lies in the interpretation. Of course, convention says that the thing in Magritte's painting really is a pipe, even though it isn't a real pipe. The pieces in this multimedia work, both fluid and concrete, are harder to pin down, but that's exactly the point. It's a strange trip in sights and sounds, both serious and playful, just in the spirit of ILK.

Tracks and Personnel

The Vertical Perspective

Tracks: Vertical; Remember; At It Again; Triple Skip; Ballad no. 4; Row no. 18; Broken Flowers.

Personnel: Niels Vincentz: tenor saxophone; Søren Kjærgaard: piano; Thomas Morgan: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

Heaven In A Wildflower

Tracks: Meridiana no. 1; Little One, Meridiana no. 2; 4x12; Meridiana no. 3; In The Zone; Meridiana no. 1 (take 2).

Personnel: Niels Vincentz: tenor saxophone; Søren Kjærgaard: piano; Thomas Morgan: bass; Billy Hart: drums.

Because You're Worth It

Tracks: All TOO DISKO (Dance with a stranger); THE IF MACHINE (Spiritual dialysis); BECAUSE YOU'RE WORTH (Just do it); FATALISTIC TENDENCIES (Understandable but unfruitful); TIPPING POINTS (One story desperately needs a different ending); DEAD ROCK BASE (Now say nay); EPÏPHÆNÂBLÈ (what's not epïhænâbLè?); POTENTIAL CURE TO THE DISTRACTIBILITY DISORDER OF MODERN LIFE (Look closer).

Personnel: Peter Bruun: drums synthesizer and Mopho; Marc Ducret: guitars; Simon Toldam: synthesizer and piano; Kasper Tranberg: trumpet; Anders Banke: flute, alto flute, bass clarinet; Peter Eldh: synthesizer, bass.

Ecstatic Embrace

Tracks: Part I; Part II.

Personnel: Jesper Zeuthen: alto saxophone; Jacob Anderskov: piano; Anders Vestergaard: drums.

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

Tracks: Ack Värmeland, du sköna; A Night in Tunesia; Very Early; All of Me; Everything I Love; Out of Nowhere; A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.

Personnel: Mikkel Mark: piano; Anders Christensen: bass; Kresten Osgood: drums.

Tungemål I

Tracks: Ears #5; Ears #7; Conversation #1; Conversation #2; Nattesang; Gentle #1; Ears #2; Filmprimadonna; Conversation #4; Gentle #2; Leaps; Pitchfork; Prepared #1; Prepared #2; Redondo; Tokyo; Slides; Resonans #2; Minor Garden.

Personnel: Mark Solborg: guitar.

Tungemål II

Tracks: CD1: Tongue; Totentanz II; Small Story; Rock On!; Nomen; Open Mike; Cinematic; Filmprimadonna II; Otra Boca. CD2: Drones; Distorted; Bari Groove; Noodles #2; Roots #2; Roots #3; Shorts #4; The Spaces #1; The Spaces #4; The Spaces #5; Totentanz Revisited..And Young.

Personnel: Mark Solborg: guitar; Lars Greve: clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano, tenor & baritone saxophone; Simon Toldam: piano; Francesco Bigoni: tenor saxophone & clarinet.

Ping Pong Punktum

Tracks: Froth over Landscape; Pre-antique rumor; I did clean my room, probably; Modern winter; Attract/ Repel; The red that froze to death; We had way too much sugar that day; Ray-ray-ray, doom-doom day; Frying eggs, solving equations; Map over desert; Rockslide face-hand; I greet you, I consume you.

Personnel: Herman Müntzing: electronics, machines, keys; Qarin Wikström: electronics, keys, voice.

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