Photo credit: Stephen Freiheit
The Sounds of Denmark mini-festival at Pizza Express in Dean Street has two gigs by the Kathrine Windfeld Big Band, making its UK debut with guest Gerard Presencer, on Friday 21 September in the evening, with a Saturday lunchtime performance on 22 September. The band (without Presencer) will also be at Watermill Jazz on 18 September and Turner Sims on 19 September. Sebastian found out more about the origins of the band and its leader:
2018 is a year when pianist, composer and bandleader Kathrine Windfeld, born in 1984 in the south of the island of Funen in Denmark, is becoming much better known. Her band’s second album, Latency (Stunt Records), recently won an award for “Danish Jazz Album Of The Year”. Her band, in its four and a half years of existence, has performed in Denmark, and also made the occasional foray into the neighbouring countries, Germany and Sweden, but this London visit to Dorking and London, their UK debut, will be the first time, she told me, that all 15 band members have got into a plane and gone further afield. She also has a prestigious engagement lined up for later in the year when she will do a rehearsal phase and concerts with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.
I asked her if the idea to have her own big band to play her compositions was an idea which had grown gradually or if there had been a specific “wow” moment somewhere along the way. It was the latter. During the time she was studying musicology at the University of Copenhagen, she took an optional course in arranging. “It was hearing Bring it On by the Dave Holland Big Band,” she told me. “That hit me really forcibly.” It led her to study jazz at the Malmö Academy of Music in Sweden, and it was there that the plan really took root. “I wanted to do something else from other people. And the world is full of quartets and quintets… what I wanted to do is to make a fresh and new take on the [big band] genre… so it won’t die out.”
How did she choose the players? “I chose 15 of the best younger players in Copenhagen and Malmö. Most of them were studying at the Conservatory. Actually, I didn’t know all of them personally, so it was exciting to me to getting to know them through my own band!” She searched for different characters and musical qualities. Some with a free approach, some have a splendid tone for ballads, plus some great bebop-players. “Thus, I write the charts in accordance with the specific skills of each member,” she explained.
After the band had performed its first couple of gigs in early 2014, it had a real stroke of luck. The pianist Niels Lan Doky, a major figure on the Copenhagen scene, was running a club called The Standard, and he invited the band to have a weekly night. In the course of that, the band really gelled as a unit. However, the club had to close within about a year of the residency starting. And since then? “We play around 20-25 gigs a year – it is really project-based. We get together, we rehearse, and we do small tours.” And has the band remained relatively stable? “Yes. We are almost the same 15 people as in the beginning. Only three have left during almost five years.”
The band is not quite the conventional full big band. It has five saxes/winds, and the rhythm section has four including guitar, but there are only three trumpets and three trombones. That means it is slightly more economical and can fit on smaller stages, but are there musical reasons as well? “I love to write for that combination because it gives the saxophones more space in the overall sound,” says Windfeld.
As for the music, one of Kathrine Windfeld’s main priorities is to achieve contrasts, to show the range this group is capable of, and to bring elements from very different styles of music: “I like to write heavy and punk-like rough textures. And I also am inspired by classical choirs and a linear way of writing. And there are some fragile ballads. And then I like to bring the energy and the attitude of rock music.”
American critic Doug Ramsey has written: “[Windfeld’s] work is in a league with bands like those of Maria Schneider, Darcy James Argue, Christian McBride and John Beasley’s Monkestra-outfits.” At last, in September, Sounds of Denmark is going to give us in the London audience the opportunity to hear what all the buzz is about for ourselves, and at close quarters. (pp)
Jakob Lundbak & Jakub Wiecek – alto sax, Roald Elm Larsen & Ida Karlsson – tenor sax, Toke Reines – baritone sax
André Bak, Rolf Thofte Sørensen, Magnus Oset – trumpets
Göran Abelli, Mikkel Aagaard, Anders Larson – trombones
Kathrine Windfeld – composer, leader & piano
Viktor Sandström – guitar
Johannes Vaht – double bass
Henrik Holst Hansen – drums
Sounds of Denmark is a cooperation between JazzDanmark, PizzaExpress Jazz Club and Sue Edwards Management with support from the Danish Embassy in London and Augustinus Fonden.
It runs from 20 September to 23 September and also features Janne Mark featuring Verneri Pohjola, Athletic Progression, Girls in Airports, Live Foyn Friis and Mathias Heise Quadrillion.