Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Day 5

It’s the 33rd annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

The 10-day jazz festival in Copenhagen finally concluded on Sunday, and I’m happy to report that there was no letdown in the quality of music being performed across town on the final night. Occupying a variety of venues throughout the historic city, the fest came in all shapes and sizes—from coffeehouses to street fairs to theaters to, of course, jazz clubs. Speaking of jazz clubs, I made it to a gig at the Jazzhus Montmartre, a legendary Danish hotspot where American expats like Deter Gordon held residencies and other great jazz musicians made historic recordings.

The interesting this about the (Café) Montmartre is that 35 years after being relocated in 1976 (and then ultimately closing in 1995), the club was reopened at its original location in 2010. With so much jazz history contained in this small-yet-important space, it was heartening to watch alto saxophonist Charles McPherson perform with local Danish musicians, especially because he had gigged at the original Montmartre venue decades before. McPherson is a jazz journeyman who played with Charles Mingus in the ’60s and ’70s, and one reason Mingus always loved McPherson was because the altoist played in a tart style heavily influenced by Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. After all these years, McPherson is still a disciple of Bird, and his repertoire at the Montmartre was straight out of this classic jazz vein. Performing vintage tunes like “I’ll Remember April,” “Scrapple From The Apple” and Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are,” McPherson sounded sharp and confident as he jumped from bebop to ballads and blues. As the show progressed, I found myself admiring the dynamic abilities of the drummer and was chagrined to find that it was veteran Alex Riel, a world-class Danish musician who boasts a resume as historic as McPherson’s, if not more so.

Then it was back to the other Jazzhouse, where an auspicious gig was underway featuring Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi with a celebrated Danish rhythm section of drummer Stefan Pasborg and bassist Jesper Lundgaard. Pieranunzi began his recording career with the late Chet Baker back in 1979. He’s a marvelous player whose piano style resides somewhere between those of Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner. A longtime critics’ favorite, Pieranunzi has made historic trio recordings with two Americans: bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joey Baron. In any case, their music at the Jazzhouse was stellar, and although the threesome played several standards, the only song I can recall was “Someday My Prince Will Come.” The talented Pasborg and Lundgaard both sounded strong and distinctive without overshadowing the amazing Pieranunzi, and this trio gig was an international piano man’s dream.

So, it was with an uplifted spirit that I left Copenhagen to return to the U.S., learning that the often-formal boundaries of nations, politics and language can do little to keep talented musicians of the world apart.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Day 4

It’s the 33rd annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

In 1971, Keith Jarrett released a double album on Columbia Records titled Expectations. At the time, Jarrett had just left Miles Davis’ band and was one of the bright young faces in jazz. Forty years later, performing at the Opera House as part of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, the esteemed Keith Jarrett Trio has generated a whole new slew of expectations. Would Jarrett be in a good mood? Would he object to the audience snapping photographs or coughing loudly to the point that he would cut the show short as he had done previously in Montreal, Perugia and other festivals around the world? Of course, the Copenhagen audience had their own expectations as well, and most folks were simply looking forward to seeing one of the finest piano jazz trios working today.

Things started out well enough with Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette performing “Green Dolphin Street,” but things broke down quickly during a version of “Night And Day” when Jarrett noticed a buzz coming from the amplification of Peacock’s bass. Stopping in effort to address the sound problem, Jarrett turned to the crowd and rhetorically asked, “Isn’t this fun?” It wasn’t. Forging on uncomfortably, Jarrett soon stopped again, this time complaining about the recital hall’s dry acoustics and explaining that the room wasn’t a good milieu to perform ballads. By this time, Jarrett’s discomfort had infected the audience, and many people were ill at ease. The band struggled through a full hour without ever hitting its stride, and it seemed that the chemistry needed for a magical performance was slipping out of reach.

During the intermission, the stage crew replaced Jarrett’s piano with one of the two spare Steinways they had backstage (per Jarrett’s expectations). Thankfully, the show’s second half unfolded without incident, and the trio attained some of the elevated playing that we’ve come to expect. From a lighthearted version of “Tennessee Waltz” to “Someday My Prince Will Come” and a cool bluesy vamp Jarrett often uses to launch into his amazing improvisations, the show finally came together. When it came time for the encores, some fans disregarded the requests for no photographs, and it looked like the show might be cut short after all.

Then, rather than Jarrett admonishing the crowd as he has sometimes done, DeJohnette simply went to the microphone and politely asked people to refrain from taking photos, and the Danish crowd complied. Two great encores ensued with many bows and ovations, and the show was mostly redeemed. Overall, Jarrett’s reactions were a little too disruptive, and the comfort level was not at an all-time high. Besides that, it seems that Jarrett has painted his group into a corner stylistically, and his demand for absolute perfection has a wearying effect on all involved. The Keith Jarrett Trio may still be the best band in the land, but that doesn’t mean it’s always worth it to see the threesome perform.

For me, the only thing to do was to take a cab across town and catch a midnight set by DJ Krush to clear my head. The Japanese turntablist was in particularly fine form, sampling everything from Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” to DJ Shadow. The beats were deep, the sound was crazy psychedelic, and the young crowd had a really great time. A perfect antidote to the aesthetic pretensions and great expectations that I’d struggled with earlier that evening.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Day 3

It’s the 33rd annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

The Copenhagen Jazz Festival continues, and I try to keep up. And by going to catch Brad Mehldau and Joshua Redman perform after having seen them do a similar show in Montreal last week, I guess I took the easy way out. Still, this was a world-class gig, and I was eager to see how the guys were progressing as they made their way across Europe. The results were predictably impressive, and if anything, the two men are getting even more in tune with each other—if that’s possible. Mehldau and Redman have played together in various group formats over the years, but as far as I can recall, this is the first series of shows where they’ve appeared as a duo. While the bulk of the evening featured new, as yet unrecorded material written by either Mehldau or Redman, they did fall back on one jazz classic, performing “Monk’s Dream” to a highly appreciative audience.

As usual, Mehldau’s piano work was both cerebral and emotive, but Redman certainly was his equal, providing a near-perfect counterpoint on tenor and soprano saxophone. The pressure was clearly on the pair with no rhythm section to rely on, but their sound was full and had its own internal momentum as the two showed off their vast capacities as improvisers. For an encore, they pulled a rabbit out of the proverbial hat with a dynamic version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Brought back to the stage once more by the politely insistent Danish crowd, the only thing left for the them to do was play the old chestnut “On The Sunny Side of The Street.” And that was it.

Taking advantage of simple proximity, I walked out of the Mehldau/Redman gig and stepped right into an adjacent room where legendary drummer Andrew Cyrille was in the process of putting on a very educational solo show. Cyrille is an avant-garde drummer who has worked with everyone from Coleman Hawkins to Carla Bley, and he got his big break playing with pianist Cecil Taylor back in the mid-’60s. As a matter of fact, Cyrille played on some of Taylor’s most important early recordings including Unit Structures, Conquistador and The Great Concert Of Cecil Taylor.

Cyrille had already been playing with various European improvisers in the course of this jazz festival, but his solo show on Friday resembled something of a masters-class drum clinic. In between his amazing rhythmic displays, Cyrille discussed various aspects of percussive theory as well as a healthy discourse of jazz history. He paid homage (verbally and physically) to drum innovators like Art Blakey and Kenny Clarke, and he discussed peers like Rashied Ali, Milford Graves, Michael Carvin and others. Near the end of the gig, I noticed drummer Adam Nussbaum was in the audience, and he just couldn’t say enough about how cool, classy and important Cyrille was. Many of us stayed after the show was over in order to meet and speak with the man, and now I’m proud to say that I shook the hand that shook the hand of many of the classic figures in jazz. Nuff said.

Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Day 2

It’s the 33rd annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

As I familiarize myself with the city of Copenhagen as well as its expansive jazz festival and all that it provides, I’m overwhelmed and impressed by this rich and varied cultural experience. Besides well-established groups coming in from all over the globe to perform, there’s lots of cross-pollination going on between artists from different countries, some authentic jam sessions and loads of musical surprises. So, for the time being, jazz pervades. On Thursday night, I started out watching the Kenny Werner Quartet with guest trumpeter Dave Douglas. Werner is a Brooklyn-born piano wizard who’s been recording since the early ’80s and apparently is quite at home in both the United States and Europe. Along with bassist Johannes Weidenmueller, drummer Johnathan Blake and Danish jazz saxophonist Benjamin Koppel, Werner and Douglas presented some powerful compositions, both new and old. There were classically influenced passages, thoroughly modern jazz with great soloing and a little bit of old-fashioned hard bop with Douglas playing like Lee Morgan circa 1965. Blake was mighty-mighty, and the whole band seemed energized by Douglas’ presence. Me, too.

From there it was off to see amazing German pianist Michael Wollny play some structured compositions with a band of great Danes including saxophonist Niels Lyhne Løkkegaard and trumpeter James Buchanan. The strangest part of their performance featured three of the musicians playing typewriters in percussive, random fashion. But don’t worry, they weren’t electric typewriters; this was an acoustic group except for the Danish guitarist with a moustache like Freddie Mercury. It was the first time these guys had ever played together, but their collective sound was thoughtful and meditative, and the compositions showed great depth and nuance.

Then, just as we were heading out the door after Wollny’s mesmerizing set, in walked Danish jazz-guitar hero Pierre Dørge, so we had to stay. To my surprise, Dørge, longtime bandmate Irene Becker and a substitute saxophonist were playing alongside a young poet. Listening to this wild Danish dude hollering beat-inspired prose in a language I didn’t understand while Dørge and his group improvised around him was a mirthful treat. Dørge is a very unorthodox player who eschews conventional methods in favor of semi-atonal riffs and percussive, single-line picking. He even had this small electronic box that simulated the droning raga sounds of a tamboura that he played against to remarkable effect. It was a completely spontaneous performance, and it epitomized the strange possibilities of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival. To be honest, I think I’m starting to like it here.