DOUBLE FESTIVAL ROUND-UP: Copenhagen (closing weekend) and Aarhus 2015

Fire! Orchestra at Copenhagen

Jazz Festival Copenhagen 2015, (July 9 -12), Jazz Festival Aarhus 2015, (July 13-14)
(Various Danish locations. Round-Up and photos by Henning Bolte- all rights reserved)

This report is about the final part of the ten-day Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and the beginning of the Aarhus Jazz Festival. Heening Bolte has focused on and confined his report of both festivals to larg(er) ensembles,. 

– The Copenhagen part will cover Eve Risser White Desert Orchestra, Maria Faust Jazz Catatrophe/Immigrant Orchestra, Blood Sweat Drum+Bass feat. Palle Mikkelborg/David Liebman, Fire! Orchestra, the Jakob Bro Tentet.

 -The Aarhus part will cover the Jakob Bro Tentet. The Nicolaj Hess Nonet and Jakob Dinesen with Strings.

Between the Copenhagen and the Aarhus festivals there is virtually no gap in time, and both festivals exchange Danish musicians and bands for their programmes. Both festivals also share a common, organizational approach and programming policy. There is a small core program that is organized by the central festival direction and there is large periphery of venues that do their own festival-oriented programming which is integrated in the festival programme. Hence the programming is many hands and works mainly bottom-up.

Another remarkable characteristic of both festivals is that they program mainly musicians/groups from Denmark. During the festival period it is high gig season for the whole scene. Musicians will have a lot of concerts in both cities: some few, some more than ten, and a few even more than 30 concerts. During this period you can watch a lot of musicians crossing town to get to a gig or to go from one gig to the next. At concerts you can see musicians leaving directly after the last note or even before to get to their next gig.

As a visitor you have “to study” the program of 100 venues and take a decision about your approach: stay in a neighbourhood or criss-crossing town to see performances at various locations spread in town? It also means that you cannot attend the greater part of the program. The best conveyance is the bike and for certain locations and distances public transportation can be convenient.


The White Desert Orchestra of young French pianist/flutist Eve Risser (INTERVIEW)served as an exciting starting point. The ensemble performed at Kulturhuset Island Brygge in the southeast of Copenhagen easy to reach with one of the two metro-lines.

Risser, an effervescent musician, has just released her first solo album Des pas sur la neige on Clean Feed. She runs the French label Umlaut, has won several awards, and was a member of the prestigious Orchestre National de Jazz (2009 to 2013). White Desert Orchestra is a new ensemble that premiered at this year’s Banlieues Bleues Festival in Paris (PREMIERE REVIEWED HERE).

Inspired amongst others by the geophonics and biophonics of Utah’s Bryce Canon with its hodos, the orchestra gradually unfolded a bright and deeply resonating sound space strongly speaking to listeners’ imagination. Risser has been inspired also by the approach of Christian Wallumrød and the Norwegian-French group Dans Les Arbres. She transposed that approach to the level and the special colours of her own large ensemble comprising excellent young musicians: Sylvaine Hélary (flute), Sophie Bernardo (bassoon), Fanny Lasfargues (acoustic bass guitar), Antonin-Tri Hoang and Benjamin Dousteyssier (saxophones, clarinets), Eivind Lønning (trumpet), Fidel Fourneyron (trombone) and Sylvain Darrifourcq (drums). Guitarist Julien Desprez, a regular member, was absent this time.

The ensemble adapted quickly to the simple smaller hall of the Kulturhuset that allowed subtleties to happen, like in remarkable, deeply embedded soloing’s on bassoon, drums, piano and flute – the later a brilliant example of multiphonics. In the opening piece the orchestra emulated the sounding of the canyon area with its inherent musical qualities. A new piece was performed, and Eclat, one of its striking central pieces with its helter-skelter characteristics, quite the opposite of the opening piece. The unfolding of the pieces was overall unpredictable but felt amazingly coherent and natural. Its non-linear developmental logic and the magical effects of it was quite a rewarding experience. The ensemble undoubtedly set a charming new, masterfully executed tone.

To get to the concert of Maria Faust Jazz Catastrophe it was back one metro station to Christianshavn. Just around the corner of the metro station at Dronningensgade 34, there is Beboerhus, home of the collective of Barefoot Records. The seven-piece ensemble of alto saxophonist Maria Faust who has a newer record Sacrum Facere with another, 8-piece ensemble on Barefoot Records, comprised Faust, Sture Ericsson (b-cl), Ned Ferm (sax), Tomasz Dabrowski (tr), Liudas Mockunas (bari-sax), Jonatan Ahlbom (tuba) and Håkon Berre (dr), none of them originally from Denmark. That is why Faust renamed the ensemble that night ‘Immigration Orchestra’ with musicians from Estonia, Sweden, The United States, Poland, Lithuania and Norway. It is a full brass ensemble playing Faust-originals. Faust is a well-trained ensemble conductor and knows how to make things work effectively with such a group of high quality musicians. The group played a delicate and fascinating combination of hymns, lullabies and oom-pah music interspersed with stunning soloing finishing with an Estonian folksong arranged by Faust, a musician to keep an ear on.


The saxophone section of Blood Sweat Drum+Bass at Copenhagen

Next day led me to the Aarhus-based formation Blood Sweat Drum+Bass featuring two older legendary musicians, Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and reedist David Liebman from the United States. With its almost 30 musicians on stage it was a big leap on the larger ensemble trail. The concert took place in the concert hall (Dronningesalen) in the building of the Royal Library called The Black Diamond (Den Sorte Diamant) at Søren Kierkegaards Plads at the waterside in the centre of Copenhagen. The concert hall is known for the unique acoustics and has space for an audience of 4-600 people. The young ensemble of BSDB is a Big Band of a new type led by saxophonist Jens Christian ‘Chappe’ Jensen (1957). It must not be mixed up with other Big Bands from Aarhus!

From a long stretched and resounding deep swoosh Liebman’s flute beautifully surfaced up accompanying an undulating passage in slow motion that Mikkelborg entered after a while with high hitting notes. The slow-motion mode finally, suddenly turned into a highly mobile banging groove. A dynamic change in temperament and pace became one of the main features during the rest of the concert. Also stylistic variation from rock, blues to reggae was integrated in the high-tension curves. The young ensemble and Liebman and Mikkelborg apparently lifted each other up. Especially Mikkelborg was playing the ball interacting intensively with the ensemble’s guitarist. Both, Liebman and Mikkelborg, were contributing and leading in a splendid manner that at the same time gradually became a weakness. The same moves were done over and over again, the same procedure alas reiterated too often. Nonetheless the ensemble showed that it is still growing into its very own innovative signature of Big Band jazz that matters. It has just released an album (on cd/dvd), In The Spirit Of … , with Mikkelborg and Liebman as guests.


Saturday night it was MG (machine gun Mats Gustafsson) who ruled Copenhagen Jazzhouse in the centre of town: first with a short appearance of power-trio The Thing with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, bassist Ingebrigt Håker-Flaten and MG mostly on baritone saxophone and then afterwards with the 19 piece Fire! Orchestra, this very loud, noisy mega orchestra that unites a lot of Vikings plus some other specialists.

Originating from Mats Gustafsson’s the trio Fire! with bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Andreas Werliin a 28-piece mega orchestra was put together at first by inviting Swedish friends from the worlds of jazz, improv, and rock after which also other musicians were asked to join. The mega orchestra made a start in 2012, skyrocketed in the next two years and released two albums, Exit and Enter, on Rune Grammofon. With its 2015 renewed 19-piece outfit it is busily touring the European summer festivals this year. The line-up had two excellent vocalists, Sofia Jernberg and Mariam Wallentin, as well as three ‘heavy’ female musicians, saxophonists Lotte Anker and Mette Rasmussen from Denmark and French hornist Hild Sofie Tafjord from Norway. The vocalists play a crucial role in relating the music to the audience and navigating through the sea of sounds.

The music of the Fire! Orchestra was built around ostinatos, rock riffs and other simple motifs allowing for continual repetition, for different kinds of variation, thereby cumulatively producing layers that collided, were smashed or blown up, broken down or just transformed by – very often but not always – heavy forces of overblowing or blowing to smithereens.

The sheer force of the powerful noise of so many (good) musicians’ joint action was sensational and impressive as such. It attracted a big crowd that apparently likes the surging and raging energies (big enough for two sold out concerts). Working this way Fire Orchestra had a big impact but only a limited range of musical elaboration and deeper and varied musical sensations. The music was too much forced in push-ups yielding unwieldy results. Despite some funny, valuable local interactions real cathartic moments were somewhat lacking. It depends, I suppose, on what one can expect from an agglomeration of so many excellent musicians. Fire! Orchestra is intended to be a joyful meeting of musical like minds – and in that, it succeeds.


The three bassists in the Jakob Bro Tentet at Copenahgen 

Sunday, the last day of the Copenhagen festival the Jakob Bro Tentet played the Loppen Club at Christiania. Guitarist Jakob Bro is known from his recent ECM trio album Gefion with his long time musical partner Thomas Morgan and drum legend Jon Christensen as well as from his album trilogy with Lee Konitz, Bill Frisell, Thomas Morgan and Paul Motian. As a sideman he is serving the Dark Eyes quintet of trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and the Lee Konitz/Dave Douglas quintet (REVIEWED HERE) with Linda Oh and Jorge Rossy. His tentet with a wisely chosen line-up, active since 2012, comprises Jesper Zeuthen, Andrew D’Angelo and Chris Speed on saxophone/clarinet, Thomas Morgan, AC and Nikolaj Munch Hansen on double bass, Adi Zukanovic, keyboards and electronics, Jakob Høyer and Kresten Osgood on drums and the voice of Aarhusian writer Peter Laugesen. They are all lead by Bro’s quite guitar playing. The first album of the tentet, aptly named Hymnotic/Salmodisk, a studio recording from 2014, has just been released and is available on vinyl and as free download.

Bro’s tentet was a striking proof of the immense power that may arise from a clear and rich melody that reinforces and refreshes itself. A thrust made the music flourish deeply from inside. The music drifted, the colours gleamed, and time flew by.

One of its cornerstones was the blazing sharpness of Jesper Zeuthen’s alto, a unique sound signature that matched brilliantly with the sound of D’Angelo’s alto sax/bass clarinet and Chris Speed’s lilting tenor voice. Lifted up by it, the music went on, elevating, leading up to elation at a higher destination thereby adequately covering its title that blends ‘hymnal’ and ‘hypnotic’. Another crucial factor was Laugesen’s sonorously rocking (Velvet Underground) voice that steadily concatenated the improbable into rhythmical images – talking in Danish along three murmuring double basses or immersing in Danish into a fully blowing group.

“in language’s night a machine’s turned on, 
The train of dreams seeks its own song”
from: Marlpit (Mergelgrav)

“Words drift across the paper like clouds in the sky
 and their shadows drift through the mind 

from: The Origin of Everything (Altings Ophav)

Using the same mood-loaded melodic nuclei as in his work with smaller groups, it remains miraculous, how Bro managed to transform it into the fully-fledged, big and bright sound of the tentet. Somebody in the audience called it ‘Farewell Songs’ … and Indeed the music is at times reminiscent Liberation Orchestra of Charlie Haden’s and the large ensembles of Carla Bley, especially her famous piece Utviklingssang. The sound of Bro’s Tentet was lush, fully blown and on full volume but came from the opposite side of the continuum in relation to the Fire! Orchestra. Bro’s modus operandi is one of recursive and emerging translucence contrary to a modus of jagged jump cuts and pushed up accumulation. It turned out even more magical next night when the tentet performed again at Aarhus’ Atlas venue.


The Aarhus Jazz Festival starts during the weekend that the Copenhagen Jazz Festival is ending. It is a comfortable three hours journey by train to get from Copenhagen to Aarhus on the Jutland peninsula in the northwest of Denmark. As said earlier the Aarhus Festival is organized along the same principles as the Copenhagen Festival but is much more compact with respect to space and distances between the venues. It is much more surveyable and all easily walkable in a highly attractive ambiance. Part of the ambiance is the well-known ARoS, a remarkable art museum with Olafur Eliasson’s stunning Your Rainbow Panorama on top of the museum building – an extraordinary, internationally acclaimed work of environmental art. The much-frequented museum is in itself worth a visit.

The first day offered several attractive concerts of the large(r) ensemble type. First the Nicolaj Hess Nonet, the Signe Bisgaard Group, the Blood Sweat Drum+Bass formation with Mikkelborg and Liebman as guests and the Jakob Bro Tentet preceded by the Giovanni Guidi Trio. Pianist Signe Bisgaard is a promising new name. She would perform with the horns of Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard, Anders Banke and Mads La Cour, the strings of Cecilie Hyldgaard, Mark Solborg and Klaus Nørgaard, the up-and-coming young drum talent Anders Vestergaard. At almost the same time however there was the chance to see the Nonet of pianist Nikolaj Hess that is not playing concerts frequently. Hess’ concert at Kunsthal became the first choice.

Sissel Vera Pettersen in Nikolaj Hess’s Group at Aarhus

There is no other Danish musician as versatile, in demand and as busy as pianist Nikolaj Hess. During the ten days of this year’s Copenhagen Jazz Festival he played a total of 30 concerts and also at the Aarhus Jazz Festival he was involved in a lot of activities one of them his own nonet – a chance to see that large ensemble that is not playing concerts frequently. It comprises Danish top-notch musicians who have collaborated with Hess regularly and know each other very well: Sissel Vera Pettersen (voc), Peter Fuglsang (a-sax, cl, b-cl, fl), Jesper Riis (trp, flh), Mads Hyhne (trb), Per Gade (g), Anders Christensen (b), Ayi Solomon (perc), Mikkel Hess (dr). Vocalist Sissel Vera Pettersen did not front the group as a conventional singer but functioned as an integral part of the instrumental group. The group started with a wonderful feather light ostinato immediately showcasing AC’s extraordinary velvet bass tone. It went into a wistful melody that was rendered by Hyhne on trombone, Peter Fuglsang’s clarinet and wordless singing by Sissel Vera Pettersen. Pettersen’s singing, electronically processed very subtle brought a fascinating extra colour into the spectrum of the groups rich instrumental sound. The beauty of the piece captivated the audience at the same extent as the liquid colourful sound. Even the way Hess was announcing and conducting the pieces meanwhile regularly searching in a pile of paper on his grand piano for the particular sheet he needed was entertaining, and kept the audience at its ease. It seems he never gets into a fret, always stays in full control. Transitions from preparation to performance, chatting and clearing up are seamless for him. For Hess, music and life mingle easily.

The nonet drew its pieces from the rich repertoire of smaller groups the participating musicians are involved, for instance Kalimba Waltz from the duo-album A Word (2009, Calibrated) of Pettersen and Hess or Kalahari from the Spacelab album The Champ (2009, Stunt Records). Spacelab is the long time firm trio of Nikolaj and Mikkel Hess with bassist AC. The trio alone performed a new piece, Space Minor. With its wonderful levitating melody the trio fully unfolded its chant qualities. It will hopefully be recorded for the nonet’s first album. The nonet’s attraction lies in its great colours, its remarkable sense of balance, its qualities of translucence qualities and the rich way it unfolds.


The strings in Jakob Dinesen’s group at Aarhus 

The last concert of the visit to this year’s jazz festival Aarhus was the concert of saxophonist Jakob Dinesen’s quartet augmented by a string quartet. It aroused both curiosity and scepticism. Dinesen, one of the most well-known saxophonists of the Danish scene, appeared with the high-calibre line up of Magnus Hjort on piano, AC on bass and Jakob Høyer on drums. AC appeared in Bro’s Tentet and AC also in Hess’ Nonet. AC, Anders Christensen, is ubiquitous in the Danish scene. Hjort is a young Swedish musician living and working in Copenhagen. He was the original pianist of Phronesis (see the in Copenhagen recorded album Organic Wayfarer (Loop, 2007), has collaborated with Marius Neset and is a member of the group of well known young Danish drummer Snorre Kirk. He has released three albums with his own trio, the latest of it Gershwin With Strings (Stunt, 2011). The album’s title indicates that Hjort might be a string specialist and it appeared that he indeed is. He made the string arrangements for the quartet of Andrea Gyarfas (vln), Karen Johanne Pedersen (vln), Sidsel Feher Most (viola), Samira Dayyani (vcl). The result in the performance can only be qualified as excellent and stunning. All pieces were very well known but nonetheless opened ears widely and ignited full enjoyment. The performance was razor-sharp, subtly balanced, moving smoothly and particularly of extraordinary elegance on all levels. It was a rare thing to experience. The complete group acted as one unified musical organism and Dinesen delivered an impeccable performance of great beauty on his saxophone. It was a treat: lush twinkling music of highest sophistication with grand souplesse. It was a finish in style.

Coda – Large Ensembles

It seems that the number of large(er) ensembles (LE) is not only increasing at the moment, but also that more of them are booked by festivals and venues. You get a fairly long list when you start to find new and old LEs, active and successful ones, musically interesting and/or highly entertaining ones. Some attraction lurks in LEs for both musicians and presenters. A LE offers lots of possibilities and chances but also has to be organized and managed well to keep it running and developing. In this  review I have tried to illustrate the diversity of formats, musical approach and reach. It seems that expression of creative musical individuality no longer fulfils, but that there is a need for extended ways of sound-making, collectively created ‘bigger’ sound.

LINK: Ralf Dombrowski’s report on the earlier part of Copenhagen 2015

Categories: miscellaneous

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