In the late 2000s, Danish jazz is experiencing something of a renaissance. The fertile milieu around Copenhagen's Rhythmic Music Conservatory has helped to create a network of connections that is making it possible for musicians to control their art and release their music on self-owned labels. A perfect example of this new movement is the small label, Your Favourite Jazz Records, owned by pianist Lars Winther
"I started the label in 2005," says Winther, "in order to publish my first record with my own trio: Love 2005. I chose to start my own label since I have always been a DIY artist and I'm very impatient waiting for other people to do the work for me. Another reason is that there isn't really a tradition in Danish jazz for knocking on the doors of the major labels, which by the way don't really exist. That is a strategy that is more commonly associated with pop music."
In the beginning, Winther only had one label, Your Favourite Records, but since then he has created the sub-label Your Favourite Jazz Records, which deals with more jazz-oriented outings. However, with a catalogue covering everything from instrumental funk to a singer/songwriters, Winther's definition of jazz is wide ranging. "In many ways, jazz to me means no rules," he says. "No rules about a chorus within 45 seconds, no rules about a maximum song-length of 3:22, no rules which say what one can and cannot do. I realise that this is a very broad definition, but I think that freedom and the ability to use it is a very central thing in jazz.
"And then there is another thing: jazz musicians tend to play music just for their own sake. Of course, there are many other musicians working in other genres that do that too, but in jazz, external sources of motivation such as economy, fame etc. are taken out of the equation. There is nothing left but the man and the music. I like that a lot!"
Your Favourite Jazz Records
Cordelia is a fine illustration of Winther's eclectic approach to the artists he signs. The ensemble consists of nine musicians whose musical backgrounds include folk, classical and jazz. The result of the merging of these very different musical minds can be heard on Pink Pony. On the crystalline ballad "Stalactite," female singer Stinne Henriksen's gorgeous voice is wrapped in an epic setting of swirling strings and introverted pianism. On the whole, Henriksen's voice is one of the strongest cards of the ensemble. She's equally at home doing semi-hysterical parodies of cabaret music on the opener, "The Circus Is Back In Town," and exploring faux country in "At The Pink Pony," with its banjo and lap steel.
The band's Shakespearian reference is no coincidence. Cordelia is as musically complex as her literary creator and the ambiguous musical landscape of Pink Pony, which spans the manic and tranquil, manages to be both thoroughly entertaining and artistically satisfying.
My Oh My
Your Favourite Jazz Records
The singer/songwriter Benjamin Aggerbæk is another example of an artist who escapes any narrow definition or categorisation. The cover for My Oh My is a more or less hidden reference to singer/songwriter Tom Waits, and while Aggerbæk's mixture of folk songs, blues, cabaret and old time jazz certainly owes a great deal to Waits, his voice is as far removed as possible from the American's signature growl and comes across instead as a striking hybrid of Nat "King" Cole and Jeff Buckley. The music, while solidly grounded in tradition, is wildly adventurous. "My Oh My" has a washboard beat and its fat brass shows the influence of New Orleans, while the lightly swinging "A Spark" features a Toots Thielemans-like harmonica, courtesy of Alexander Kraglund.