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Valby Summer Jazz: Copenhagen, Denmark, July 6-13, 2013

Jakob Baekgaard By

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Avant-garde and Pop á la Carte

One of the most exciting things about Valby Summer Jazz is the curators' courage when it comes to placing themselves in new constellations. Sometimes, the result is superior, as in the case of the mezzo-soprano meeting, and it is never anything less than interesting.

An unlikely meeting at the festival was a concert with Koppel, hip-hop scratch-master extraordinaire, DJ Noize, and classical pianist Katrine Gislinge. The concert was billed as a transgression of genres, but the electronic part of the concert never really took off, and mostly came across as a gimmick that spoke more to the prejudice of electronics as a means of entertainment and distraction, rather than a vehicle for artistic innovation, as it certainly can be, as evidenced by Norwegian producer Jan Bang.

A screen with pictures accompanied the music and was remixed live by DJ Noize, often with humorous effect, but the result was sometimes rather unsophisticated, as when a chopped up image of a snake-charmer accompanied an oriental motif on the saxophone. However, there were also interesting moments where layers of processed and real-time piano sounds intertwined in a complex soundscape.

Gislinge's playing was pretty and included well known pieces like Debussy's "Claire de Lune" and Erik Satie's "Gnossienne No. 1," and the pairing with Koppel resulted in beautiful sounds. It would have been lovely to hear Gislinge and Koppel in a duo without the ironic images from DJ Noize, but this was a concert that aimed more for entertainment than art. One can certainly not deny the musical skills and talent of DJ Noize, but his pictorial contributions felt quite out of place in this context.

Pianist and composer Jacob Anderskov played on the same evening as Koppel, Gislinge and DJ Noize, premiering works from his latest album Strings, Percussion & Piano (ILK, 2013). As the title implies, Anderskov relied on a constellation with a string trio and drummer Peter Bruun and they realized his subtle compositions perfectly—whether the music touched on a romantic aesthetic, as in the pastoral "Spring," or got into more dissonant and abstract areas in "Soil," with its forceful stabs of strings and splashing percussion.

Anderskov proved himself as an exciting composer in the field between experimental classical music and jazz. He brought an element of surprise and improvisation into the written scores and Bruun's forceful drumming added a welcome rhythmical flow that complemented the texture of the strings.

In spite of the experimental nature of Anderskov's music, it was also melodic and contained identifiable motifs and rhythms, but it was a long way from the accessible avant-garde of Anderskov to the pure jazz-pop party of Koppel and friends. They played a concert to an enthusiastic audience that couldn't resist the charm of the four vocalists that Koppel had brought along with his tight quartet of drummer Tom Jensen, pianist Jacob Karlzon and bassist Morten Ramsbøll.

The four singers had one thing in common: they all had a background in pop, soul and gospel. But this evening, the focus was on a jazzified repertoire. Singer Maria Montell gave a sweet version of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" and the positive vibe was maintained by soul singer Erann DD, whose congenial version of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" was literally delivered at the edge of the scene.

Drori beamed positivity and serenaded the old ladies on the balcony, but in terms of charm, he had tough competition from Denmark's number one crooner, Bobo Moreno, who sang a self-penned tune called "Bad Timing" that was worthy of Curtis Stigers with its elegant, swinging feeling.

When it came to sheer volume and power, all the singers were blown away by Marie Carmen Koppel, who lit up the hall with her marvelous gospel-voice. She gave strong versions of Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and the standard "When I Fall in Love."

In the end, all the singers got together for a joyful, if not tight version of Burt Bacharach's "That's What Friends Are For." This was indeed an evening of musical friendship and Koppel also mentioned that as a festival arranger, he was glad that he could invite his musical friends. While the musicians clearly had a good time, the joy was also felt among the audience. The concert was a beautiful example of how pop can create a community where troubles and worries are set aside for a moment. It was jazzy pop, but first of all it was pop and a concert for those who don't normally listen to jazz.

Sound in Technicolor

While the concert with Koppel and friends provided a gentle introduction for those not normally accustomed to jazz, the big band concert with Ole Kock Hansen's A Very Big Band provided an excellent entry into the genre of the big band.

The concert featured three guest stars: drummer Alex Riel, saxophonist Benjamin Koppel and singer Marie Carmen Koppel and they all contributed significantly: Riel with his propulsive swinging that made the big band light as a feather, Koppel with his narrative solos, and Marie Carmen Koppel lifted the room with her soulful voice and gospel phrasings.

The sound was excellent and the repertoire was diverse, encompassing everything from big band classics like Thad Jones' "Big Dipper," the standard "Angel Eyes" and more modern pieces like Nat Adderley's "Work Song." It was a set list that allowed Koppel to pay homage to some of his heroes, like saxophonists Johnny Hodges and Phil Woods, whose beautiful "Julian" was a highlight of the concert.

When sister Marie Carmen Koppel entered the stage, the direction changed from jazz to pop and soul, and the singer gave convincing interpretations of soul classics from Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway. When it all ended with a gospel tune, the audience completed a journey that had begun in the earliest years of big band, moved through modern jazz and pop, and ended where it all began: with the gospel songs in church.

Another luxurious journey in sound came from percussionist Marilyn Mazur, who closed the festival with her concert with the Tritonus Choir. The name of their project was called "Existence," and unfolded itself like a glorious suite of poems set to music and instrumental interludes played by the quartet of Mazur, pianist Makiko Hirabayashi, bassist Klavs Hovman and saxophonist Hans Ulrik.

The texts came from both Nordic and oriental sources and it all started when members of the choir popped up from everywhere and walked around in the concert hall, whispering a poem by Vigdis Garbarek. With this introduction, the scene was set for something special and the concert turned out to be a mind-blowing experience where Mazur's painterly percussion, the Zen-like touch of Hirabayashi's piano and the deep grooves of Hovman were merged with Hans Ulrik's Coltrane- like lines on the tenor.

The instruments were in perfect flow with the voices of the choir and brought out the philosophical aspects of the texts without succumbing to unnecessary pathos or dry intellectualism. Instead, the music and words combined into crashing waves of vitality that emphasized the rhythm and beat of life in a marvelous sound painting. When it all ended with an irresistibly charming cover of Monty Python's "Always Look on the Bright Side of life," Mazur's Quartet and the choir had managed to distill all the complexities of life into a life-affirming work of art.

The festival began with a concert with choir and ended with a concert with choir. It was a narrative of voices and big bands, but more than anything, it was an homage to creativity and music itself. With their tireless effort, Werner and Koppel and the team around Valby Summer Jazz have created a truly unique event that takes the perspective of the artists, but seeks to include the audience and expand their musical horizons. This year it seemed like the sky was the limit and some of the concerts played will definitely linger, as the festival moves on and prepares for another year of exciting musical meetings.

Photo Credit

All Photos: Jannik Knudsen


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