Copenhagen Jazz Festival
(Friday July 9th, various venues)
Equipped, at last, with a bicycle, I set off to check out the sights and the sounds of Copenhagen.
First stop was a community centre in the suburb of Amager to check out one of those names which crops up again and again in the jazz fan’s record collection, trumpeter Jens Winther. Born in 1960, he was solo trumpet of the Danish Radio Big Band by the age of 22. That gave him a wonderful opportunity: to get his writing and arranging chops together with a little help from the great Thad Jones. Jens Winther made no concessions to the heat of the day, and launched straight in to his set with Hancock’s speedster One Finger Snap, (link to the original on Blue Note) written for Freddie Hubbard. Winther is nothing more and nothing less than one of those top-notch improvising trumpeters who doesn’t know how to hide away. Being so used to the red light going on, he knows absolutely how to deliver the goods down the microphone and onto live radio every time. But this was a gig where one needed to avoid the baking sun. and move on.
The second gig found music in surroundings with a lot more natural shade. The dappled sunlight of the gardens of the imposing Kristians Kirke, where I caught the latter half of a gig by a cheerful gipsy unit called Orango Django, with not just lead vocals but also postive rhythm guitar extremely capably dealt with by Sille Gronberg.
I then caught, briefly, pianist Steen Rasmussen and vocalist Josefine Cronholm’s lively and stylish latin band on the main town centre freestage in the Frue Plads. It had drawn a healthy crowd to hear great music for a summer’s day.
Then the hardest choice of the day was number four. 8pm on Festival Friday was the start time for no fewer than FIFTEEN gigs. I chose perhaps the most introspective of them, a trio of pianist Jakob Anderskov ,with New Yorkers, bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Gerald Cleaver. I first clocked of the acoustics of the Literature Center, a converted church, when hearing Michael Formanek’s warm-up routines. A joy in itself. I guess if any musician could warm up in that acoustic, they might think they had died and gone to heaven. Formanek was playing the building, letting it resonate. Anderskov is a musicians’ and listeners’ pianist, turning short melodic fragments inside and around each other like rubik cubes. A patient craft, done at very high level.
Gig number five was the recommendation of the festival organizers. Ibrahim Electric, had been recently showcased and apparently gone down a storm at the Rochester Jazz Festival. The classic Hammond trio instrumentation, with guitar and drums, but playing happy, poppy, crowd-pleasing stuff. It reminded me that the Clash used to have a Hammond in there somewhere in the eighties. The young audience were absolutely lapping it up.
Gig number six had brought out a slight sense of responsibility. This was one of our recommendations, courtesy of the generous use of his time by Django Bates. In fact I had met a guy from Berlin the previous day who had decided to come to Copenhagen when he read our post.
This was an extreme free improv gig by Fred Frith on guitar and Lotte Anker on saxophones. Frith was using any number of toys to enhance the guitar, from slinky metal springs to vilin bows, various metal rods and (possibly?) a camembert box. The setting, with the two camped under a dark green military tent, playing to a crowd sitting in the open air, was bizarre, but the sounds win you over by stealth. What stays in the mind is that the combination of Frith and Anker has a natural way of succumbing to and imitating the unpredictability of nature.
Next time a film director needs a soundtrack for rivers, shooting stars or volcanoes, forget those composers and their click-track specialists who copy and paste in Sibelius, forget electronica. Put your faith in humans, in improvisers and they will give you the best. Nature needs a human understanding of it. Haul in these two geniuses, let’s hear it for human beings who know what they’re doing, and can respond in real time.
One more to go. Danish singer Cathrine Legardh had instantly turned this male mid-lifer to marshmallow when he heard just one track of the Danish Jazz 2010 sampler CD. On that CD she sings Glemmer Du, a song about a lover who can remember and recount absolutely every moment of a relationship which has ended. She sings it with intonation like a bell, faultless judgment of timing and speech-rhythms, and diction like spring water. Her CD “Gorgeous Greature” (Storyville, 2008) with Scots piano god Brian Kellock, has a fine seven minute version of You’ve Changed. And on the gig, it was Bruno Martino’s sixties classic Estate, sung in Danish, as on the video above. Legardh has an unforced, unpushy way with these songs.
Steady, don’t get carried away. There were other fine musicians on the gig too. Young singer Birgitte Soojin takes songs like Caravan and Squeeze Me fearlessly by the scruff of the neck , in the manner of a China Moses or a Nikki Yanofsky. Watch out, I suspect this is a name which will be heard more of. Also the warm-toned mellifluous Icelandic alto player Sigurdur Flosason and Irish guitarist Phil McDermott, who both shone on every chorus which the singers gave them. There was some highly inventive impromptu arranging and bandleading from a soft-spoken, soft-singing bass player whom everyone seemed to call Goofy.
A day of sunshine, a critic and a bike, and the backdrop of he squares, churches, bridges and inlets of a beautiful city. Half of these gigs were free, what a great day.