Copenhagen Jazz Festival (Neneh Cherry/ Jim Hall/ Paolo Fresu / Brad Mehldau etc.)

T.S. Høgh Pop-up Orchestra in front of The Royal Theater
Photo credit: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen / http://www.jazz.dk
Here is another perspective on the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Jez Matthews (@jazzteabeer on Twitter), who travelled to the festival for the first time, picks TEN GIGS and then gives his overall impression.

Neneh Cherry with The Thing, at The Jazz House.

A powerful meeting of Neneh Cherry’s charismatic vocals and The Thing’s intense energy made for a visceral performance with a real emotional punch. Covers of MF Doom’s ‘Accordion’, Suicide’s ‘Dream Baby Dream’ were highlights, but Don Cherry’s ‘What Reason Could I Give’ tied things up perfectly. Easily one of my most memorable gigs of the last few years.

Pianist Søren Kjærgaard at Cafe Mellemrummet.

I have come across Søren’s playing in his trio with Andrew Cyrille and Ben Street, on an album called ‘Femklang’. He is an intriguing and original artist, with a particular use of space to define the contours of his music. Here he was playing electric piano (and an analogue radio) with drummer Peter Bruun (from Django Bates’ Beloved Bird trio), and Lars Greve on saxophone. This was fascinating music, with great rhythmic interplay, considerable dynamic range, and really effective use of multiphonics by Greve. Although apparently free, there seemed to be an underlying groove and compositional sense to the playing, and on one particularly beautiful slow piece, the music seemed to glisten and levitate, oblivious to time passing.

Paolo Fresu with an all-star Danish lineup at Jazzhus Montmartre.

This was something of a wish fulfilled for me; a legendary club that I’ve always wanted to visit. The club is now based at a new location, but nevertheless its a great venue with a sense of history, friendly staff, and an attentive, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic audience. Having seen Paolo Fresu before, I knew what to expect, and he didn’t disappoint, playing two sets of (mostly) standards, with great straight ahead playing from the classy band that accompanied him, featuring Jan Lundgren on piano, Jesper Lundgaard on bass (more on him later), and Morten Lund on drums. Fresu has such a wonderful melodic sense and great time and phrasing, with Miles and Chet Baker never far from sight in his playing.

Søren Kjærgaard trio at the Tranquebar bookshop/cafe.

This time the piannist was with veteran Hugo Rasmussen on bass, and Carsten Dahl on drums, giving new life to a set of early Ellington tunes (including ‘The Mooche’, ‘East St Louis Toodle-oo’, and many others). Although respectful of the harmony and arrangements of the originals, and reminiscent of Ellington’s ‘Money Jungle‘ and Thelonious Monk’s Ellington album, the music and presentation of it were full of wit, and with a definite 21st century sensibility particularly evident in Kjærgaard’s piano playing.

Mulgrew Miller with Jesper Lundgaard and Alex Riel in tribute to Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen at Jazzhus Montmartre.

A hard-swingng trio with an impressive pedigree. NHØP’s daughters were in the audience for this concert, which was marked by a strong sense of community shared by both the band and the audience. Riel was both playful and earnest in his playing and on-stage persona, and Lundgaard played several solos of remarkable lyricism and depth. Miller paid moving tribute, both musically and verbally, to his late playing partner, and capped it all with a marvelously swinging ‘What a Difference a Day Made’, straight out of the Oscar Peterson school of piano trio playing.

Karen Bach’s trio at Bar Harbo.

A young crowd on the Monday afternoon. Karen on Rhodes piano, Erik Olevik on electric bass, and Erik Lautsen on drums. Her group has a very contemporary feel, with some great grooves, subtle playing, and a strong narrative sense on some attractive and very listenable compositions. Someone to look out for, and a sign perhaps of the depth of talent in this part of the world.

Brad Mehldau trio at the Kongelige Teatret.

This was predictably intense and close to perfection, with the expected eclectic mix of tunes covering Radiohead, The Beatles, Paul Simon, and Charlie Parker. The performance was really summed up in the perfect groove in the coda for the 2nd encore ‘Knives Out’. Brilliant stuff.

Nikolaj Hess at the Christians Kirke

A New York/Danish-based pianist; again someone whose playing I was to become acquainted with over the next few days. A more conventional player than Soren Kjaergaard, but no less interesting for that, with great emotional and expressive range. Hess dealt with the demands of a vast church acoustic on a range of pieces from originals to versions of Bob Dylan’s ‘Masters of War’ and ‘Make You Feel My Love‘ (his touch on this was simply beautiful), and Strayhorn’s ‘Come Sunday’, and a jaunty version of ‘Cottontail’. Playing like this made us keen to see more of Hess, and we were able to catch him in different settings (both trios) later in the week; at Bartof Cafe, a marvelous jazz bar selling great beer and with a really informal atmosphere, and in the open air in a trio featuring french bass player Francois Moutin.

Julian Lage Quintet, Prøvehallen.

Lage’s group featured Kenny Werner on piano, Henrick Dam Thomsen on cello, amazing percussionist Tupac Mantilla, and Benjamin Koppel on sax. This was an engrossing set of all original music, and a strong ethos based on group interplay, however I left feeling slightly disappointed not to have heard a little more individual playing from both Lage and Werner, both of whom showed their genius in short enticing bursts. There was however plenty to enjoy in Mantilla’s virtuosic display covering his entire percussion set, as well as using his body for an endless array of finger clicks, rhythmic slaps and clapping.

Jim Hall Quintet, Prøvehallen

Hall’s group at the same venue also included Kenny Werner and Benjamin Koppel, with Scott Colley on bass, and Jonathan Blake on drums. This was for me a much more satisfying affair, starting with a duo with the Colley, then joined by the larger band. The set was remarkable for the obvious respect of the younger musicians for the leader, allowing him space to express himself, yet not holding back in their own contributions. Blake was a model of restraint in his drumming, and there were beautiful melodic solos from Colley and Werner. My highlight was a wonderful version of Hall’s ‘All Across the City’ – a tune familiar from Hall’s famous recording with Bill Evans. What a privilege to hear this played live by the great man, and backed so sensitively by the musicians around him.


– This was my first visit to Copenhagen. Over the course of 6 days, I barely scratched the surface of this huge festival. 1100 plus gigs in 10 days make it impossible to do anything more than that.

– There is music everywhere, in public spaces, squares and parks, small bohemian bars, restuarants, bookshops, libraries, museums, churches, jazz clubs, and theatres.

– The compact geography of Copenhagen means that you can navigate easily from one gig to another, however by the end of our stay we estimated that we had covered over 100km on foot. Next time we will hire bicycles!

– The festival app (downloadable from iTunes) proved invaluable in navigating the vast array of gigs and venues at this festival.

– The bill has a long list of big name acts, and also lesser known artists, many of whom appear several times, in different line-ups, making it possible to see the same musicians in a variety of different playing situations.

– The big-name concerts were great, but really the icing on the cake, and not the full story of the festival. For me the essence of the festival lies in the breadth, range and quality of really great, and often quite innovative music on the programme, and the sense of a city being given over to jazz for 10 days.

– This was an absolutely inspiring experience, and one I hope to repeat next year.

Categories: miscellaneous

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