Percussion Heavyweights Shine in Copenhagen
Posted 7/30/2012

With nearly 1,000 concerts spread across 10 days, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival is one of the most prominent jazz fests in the world. The city’s 34th festival, which took place on July 6–15, was a satisfying experience for aficionados and novices alike. The Copenhagen fest offered a high aesthetic standard as well as straightforward hospitality that attracted artists from all over the world—and keeps many of them coming back year after year.

An informed mix of European and American talent helped make this a particularly worthwhile festival, and on my first night in town I was able to catch three good shows—with three amazing drummers. On hiatus from the Wayne Shorter Quartet, drummer Brian Blade brought his Fellowship Band to the Betty Nansen Teatret for an early evening show. The group was solid, and Blade’s restrained yet dynamic drum style with pianist Jon Cowherd and bassist Chris Thomas set up a modern, melodic and liberating foundation for reedists Myron Walden and Melvin Butler.

At recently reconstituted Jazzhouse—a vital venue that had been flooded and closed for months after last year’s festival—the Joe Lovano/Dave Douglas Sound Prints ensemble honored the musical spirit of Shorter with original material written by Lovano or Douglas. Supported by bassist Linda Oh, pianist Lawrence Fields and the mighty Joey Baron on drums, sax master Lovano and trumpeter Douglas performed two nights at the Jazzhouse, showcasing their formidable instrumental skills as well as their advanced compositional capabilities.

Upstairs at Jazzhouse, drummer Bob Moses set up quietly in a small, unoccupied corner of the barroom. Moses was a designated “artist in residence” for this year’s festival, and the late-night gig was one of his several appearances. Playing with a bassist and keyboardist, Moses captivated, working his tiny kit with sticks, mallets, brushes and rubber tubes. As he tapped out his colorful rhythmic message, Moses resembled a medicine man, bringing an innate musicality to his humble percussion discussion.

At an afternoon outdoor show in the garden of the Christians Kirke the next day, vocalist Kurt Elling performed with guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Derrek Phillips. Hunter was a marvel on eight-string guitar, playing bass, rhythm and lead parts simultaneously as Elling charmed the crowd with Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” and Steve Miller’s “Fly Like An Eagle.” He also crooned ballads like Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Elling occasionally employed a vocoder, electronically phasing his voice in multiple octaves.

The amiable Prøvehallen venue housed some instructive duets between guitarist Jim Hall and bassist Scott Colley, including tart versions of “Bags’ Groove” and “My Funny Valentine.” They were later joined by pianist Kenny Werner and saxophonist Benjamin Koppel. Back in town, the Wayne Shorter Quartet gave a concert at the Royal Theatre. Though this was drummer Jorge Rossy’s first gig subbing for Brian Blade, the Shorter band put on an amazing performance. Flowing wordlessly from one Shorter composition to the next, the group took its intuitive improvisation as far as it could go. Shorter was in full control, playing tenor and soprano saxophones with focused energy while directing the band with hand signals, whistling and good humor. Much of the heavy lifting was taken on by pianist Danilo Pérez and bassist John Patitucci as the talented Rossy worked to find his space in the mix. While not as transcendent as the band’s sterling performance with Blade in Montreal a week earlier, the show was an absolute highlight.

Two Boston saxophone legends also had showcases. Tenor titan Jerry Bergonzi performed out in the Freetown Christiania sector of Copenhagen. Playing with young Danish sidemen and little rehearsal, Bergonzi’s gig at the Christiania Jazz Club was loud, rowdy and magnificent. Two nights later, George Garzone appeared in town with Danish musicians. Unlike Bergonzi, Garzone has been playing with the same guys in Copenhagen for well over a decade, including pianist Rasmus Ehlers, bassist Jonas Westergaard and drummer Jakob Høyer. Garzone was on fire, and after the show everyone went over to a jam session at the Montmarte club, where Garzone and Rossy got up and played with session host David Bryant, bassist Josh Ginsburg and Danish saxophonist Niels Nogel.

Other gigs included great Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen in the outdoor venue series Jazz By The Sea. While not the formidable bandleader Fela Kuti was, Allen still calls the shots, and his group played a complex, danceable rhythm that brought the Danish crowd to its feet. Later that night, in the Danish Parliament buildings at the Theatre Museum/Court Theatre, saxophonists Tim Berne and Lotte Anker with cellist Hank Roberts delivered an avant-garde performance with violinist Mat Maneri, guitarist Marc Ducret, bassist Nils Davidsen and drummer Gerald Cleaver, all of whom played several ambitiously introspective compositions written by Anker.

The last really memorable gig in Copenhagen was back at the Jazzhouse, where The Necks, a very progressive piano trio from Australia, were absolutely mesmerizing. The group played an hour-long droning improvisation that filled the room with a fascinating, majestic minimalism.

Mitch Myers

From left: Jon Cowherd, Myron Walden, Brian Blade, Melvin Butler and Chris Thomas (Photo: Kirstine Lykkeberg Thomsen)


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