Review: Gerard Presencer and Mulgrew Miller at Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen

Sound-checking at Cafe Montmartre, 11th July 2012
Left to right: Mulgrew Miller, Gerard Presencer, Jesper Lundgaard, Alex Riel
Photo credit: Sophie Kramhoft

Gerard Presencer, Mulgrew Miller Danish Trio
(Jazzhus Montmartre, Copenhagen Jazz Festival, 11th July 2012. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Get with the sheer scale of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. There were no fewer than sixteen gigs starting at 8pm on my first night here. And not far short of 100 for the whole day. I went to just one, making a long-awaited pilgrimage to the spiritual home of jazz in Copenhagen, Jazzhus Montmartre, where trumpeter Gerard Presencer was appearing as guest on the final night of piano master Mulgrew Miller‘s residency with his Danish rhythm section pairing of drummer Alex Riel and bassist Jesper Lundgaard. (John Taylor’s there, being  similarly honoured, from tonight).

 For the past two years Montmartre has been back at its original hallowed location, Store Regnegade 19A (here’s the early history). It’s a room on a human scale. Completely packed, and very warm inside, it’s an ideal room for the music, about the same size as the room at the Vortex.
Yes, warm: for most of the band it was at least a two-shirt night. The long communal tables are narrow, so people who arrive early and book for dinner can have civilized conversation. The red curtains impart a metaphorical warmth. Director Christian Brorsen welcomed the band, clearly set out the rules for photographers (no flash, and none at all after the second tune) and people stuck to them, and were attentive, appreciative. Later, I stayed around for the start of the 11pm jam. With luminaries such as Stefano Bollani and David Sanchez turning up, there was all kinds of potential…

But back to the gig. We don’t get to hear Gerard Presencer much – or enough –  in London these days. In his career he has done it all. He was recording for Blue Note at 18, was among the first choices on trumpet  for Stan Tracey and Dankworth for many years. He has played with everyone…. (BIOGRAPHY). He has now made his life with his family in Copenhagen, working with the Danish Radio Big Band (site only in Danish). His playing has always been fluent, with an ebullient technique and a palette of sound capable of going in many directions, but there was both a purposefulness and an easefulness about his playing last night which will definitely stay in the memory.

Presencer’s first utterance was a Harmon-muted statement of the tune of Brubeck’s In Your Own Sweet Way. Gentle oblique, standing at a slant. Miller followed with simple exploratory right hand figures, enjoying the colours of a very good Steinway. “We’re just getting started”, he said. And the partnership duly grew during the course of the evening, culminating in a foot-to-the-floor I’ll Remember April. Presencer had met pianist Mulgrew Miller for the first time at the afternoon sound-check. Or in Miller’s words: “I had not met him, but I was warned: he comes armed”. Miller was having fun, He put as much effort into getting the pronunciation of Gerard’s name on this first encounter wrong as he did into getting it right.

Mulgrew Miller brings the jazz piano tradition to life in every phrase. He name-checked Oscar Peterson, but there were many other echoes: the light comping paterns of Red Garland, a completely ravishing, blissfully quiet My Foolish Heart infused with Bill Evans, a  Wayne Shorter’s Fee-Fo-Fi Fum where Thelonius Monk was in the room. And the countless subtle ways in which Mulgrew Miller keeps a 3/4 bar swinging deserve a Ph.D. thesis rather than this blog review.

This was an evening of generous spirits supporting, encouraging each other, helped along by a polite but completely involved audience. A lot of smiles across the band stand. Drummer Alex Riel shone particularly in the brisk first half closer If I were a Bell, his left knee keeping an improbably quick continuous four going on hi-hat. Bassist Jesper Lundgaard has a range of tone-length from staccato to legato which give many expressive possibilities, and resulted in his solos being greeted with the ind of expectant silence bass players don’t always get.

I’m not just looking forward to the treats in store from two more nights at the festival. I’m also keen to hear the two CDs of music by Siobhan Lamb (Mrs Presencer) which have just been released. Perhaps – among other things – they will crystallise and demonstrate some of the fluency and the joy in Presencer’s playing from last nights gig.

Categories: miscellaneous

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