Reports: Jazzahead 2014: Marilyn Mazur solo/ Wednesday and Danish Night Showcase / Thursday

Marilyn Mazur, Jazzahead 2014
Photo Credit: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen

Jazzahead 2014: Marilyn Mazur solo and Danish Night Showcase
(City 46, Kommunalkino and Halle 2 at Messe Bremen. 24th and 25th April 2014. Report by Alison Bentley)

Imagine a world where everything is about jazz. Imagine a dream where you go to an ideal home exhibition and find all the stalls (hundreds) are about jazz- labels, promoters, bands, from all over the world- everyone chatting about jazz. One stall is giving out jazz apples. The owner of one local label even seems to have moved the contents of his living room into his stall- a jazz ‘ideal home’.

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“The owner of one label had moved the contents of his living room into his stall.”
Jazzahead 2014. Photo by Alison Bentley

Denmark was Germany’s ‘partner country’ in Jazzahead this year, with many Danish musicians taking part in gigs over the weekend. The great percussionist Marilyn Mazur (NY born, resident in Denmark from the age of 6), was performing solo in a cinema, following a film about her life (which I unfortunately missed, being hopelessly lost in the wilds of Bremen’s suburbs). Mazur was dwarfed by huge racks of percussion: gongs, bells and mysterious objects had their shadows thrown into sharp relief against the screen behind. She played with extraordinary freedom and creativity, clicking instruments that looked part castanet, part spoon. Mazur sang a little like Mari Boine, moving round the instruments as if dancing. She played tall hand drums like huge mushrooms springing up from the stage; rattling goats’ feet; huge mallets like candyfloss. One minute there were harsh gong tones like the Peking Opera; then tiny tinging cymbals, then rippling thumb piano: we were under her spell. The pieces seemed to start and end whenever it felt right. Some were songs: Looking For the Sun, she told us, was about wondering round New York for the first time since childhood, feeling lonely- having been invited to work with Miles Davis. ‘Cross the stream,’ she sang. ‘Join my dream.’ And we did.

Some of Danish Night’s bands were showcased in the conference hall itself. We tend to think of Phronesis as a British band, given bassist Jasper Høiby’s long London residence (he’s now based back in Denmark). They burst on to the stage with Urban Control, their controlled wildness revealed in Ivo Neame’s descending piano lines and high energy bass. It sounded incredibly free, but a groove emerged like a heat haze. In Behind Bars Hoiby’s bass was like a powerful racehorse under the surface tension of the piano. Anton Eger seemed to be playing several time signatures at once, sticks thundering like Magnus Öström. A gentler piece had Romantic piano, with bass and drums running daringly across the beat. The final piece had loud brushes and rocky jagged rhythms; you could feel the seething grooves underneath.

The gentleness of the Aske Drasbæk Group was in total contrast. A second look revealed that Drasbæk was playing baritone, with the richness of a tenor. Drasbæk loves Dexter Gordon (he told me), and you could hear that in his tone- but in the modern context of his own compositions. (You were sometimes reminded of Christian Scott’s writing). Twin guitars (Per Møllehøj, Søren Dahl) sounded ambient and mellow, spiced with dissonance, over Andreas Fryland’s whispering backbeat. Tapani Toivanen on bass soloed beautifully over the bari’s breathy dark tones. Their album is called Old Ghost, the spirit of older jazz living on in new forms.

Live Foyn Friis calls the songs she’s written ‘indie-jazz’; Alex Jønsson Christensen’s Frisell-like guitar was the perfect foil for her intensely ethereal voice. In a song ‘about Spring’ the string quartet’s glissandi drew out the lines of the chords behind the guitar solo. In Can You Live, Jens Mikkel Madsen’s bass had strong percussive force behind the guest euphonium solo. Foyn Friis’ gamine presence and breathy tone recalled Bjork, her fast vibrato intensified by the tremolo strings. Dementor (from Harry Potter) was triphoppy and eerie (Andreas Skamby on drums), while the last song had melodic folk qualities. The arrangements were beautifully detailed through the set, creating a world of beauty and strangeness.

Girls in Airports turned out to be 5 young men on a stage. Martin Stender and Lars Greve were on saxes (often two tenors, rather eclipsed in the sound system) and occasionally clarinet. A minor mode from the two tenors rose like a snake charmer over the mesmerising groove, a little like the UK’s Portico Quartet. Mathias Holm played Fender Rhodes and bass on keyboards, holding together Mads Forsby’s drums andVictor Dybbroe’s percussion. The Grass by the Roses had alto and tenor sparking off each other in catchy, folky cross-riffs. The next piece had angry cat squeals and wild overblowing on sax, over galloping percussion- not unlike Marilyn Mazur. Their final tune had Afrobeat riffing worthy of Femi Kuti.

Jazzahead is a good title. You felt as if you were listening to the development of jazz as it was happening- on the edge of something new.

LINKS: Ralf Dombrowski’s photos of Thursday at Jazzahead
Review of Marilyn Mazur at Sydhavnen in the Copenhagen Jazz Fest 2012

(Videos of all concerts are on the Jazzahead website)

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