Prism, Jakob Bro Inspire With Sublime Sets in Copenhagen
The 2014 Copenhagen Jazz Festival, which ran from July 4–13, was an inspiring event, set to sublime jazz and cool, cooperative midsummer weather.
Enjoying its 35th anniversary, the fest showcased an impressive mix of Scandinavian and European artists with a few choice American players thrown in. Occupying small cafes and bars, raw performance spaces and larger, elegant theaters as well as a bevy of Danish clubs, the festival’s programming was diverse—nodding toward established traditions while equally acknowledging modern conceptions.
Dave Holland’s Prism played two consecutive nights at the Jazzhouse, followed each night by young Scandinavian saxophone sensation Mette Rasmussen. The Prism quartet—bassist Holland, keyboardist Craig Taborn, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Eric Harland—was in extraordinarily fine form. Comparisons to the bassist’s previous jazz-fusion excursions—particularly the time he spent with Miles Davis’ late-’60s, early ’70s electric bands—are not without merit.
Holland’s pulsing bass drove this group, but he also presided over the other three musicians with a loose, permissive style—providing each player room to put his imprint on the tunes. Each member of Prism also contributes compositions, which continue to grow and evolve as the musicians perform together on the road. Taborn’s adroit mix of electric and acoustic keyboard playing was mostly marvelous, and the range of textures he produced helped to glue this band’s sound together.
Opening the first night with “The Winding Way,” a track from Holland’s 2000 quartet CD, Dream Of The Elders, Prism quickly made this old tune its own. Holland’s bass solo was masterful, while Harland’s drumming virtually exploded off the bandstand. Guitarist Kevin Eubanks looked at ease and sounded unleashed, balancing tonal restraint with fiery soloing.
The band segued into Eubank’s tune “Evolution,” with all four men plugging away at interlocking parts—making for a far greater-sounding whole. Holland bowed his bass with authority, and Taborn mixed in his keyboard embellishments with distinctive style. The tune grew in intensity, with both Harland and Eubanks providing blazing musicianship. Here, the group echoed the Bitches Brew-era Davis band that Holland was once a part of.
While Prism introduced a couple of newer tunes at the Jazzhouse, most of the music was from its 2013 self-titled CD. Taborn’s dancing melody on “The True Meaning Of Determination” was given a lengthy interpretation, building with militaristic, staccato rhythms and the pianist’s savvy acoustic soloing. That was followed by Eubank’s composition “The Watcher,” which evolved into downright hard fusion and left the audience in ecstasy.
A special mention must also go to Rasmussen. A Danish-born resident of Norway, the young saxophonist sounded like Albert Ayler incarnate, wildly squawking and honking on her horn with total control, rhythmic complexity, an endless supply of ideas and surefire melodic resolutions. Accompanied by American percussion ace Chris Corsano, Rasmussen bravely played her own brand of fire music.
Another sensational show during the festival featured the young Danish guitar star Jakob Bro, working with an all-star band that included American bassist Thomas Morgan, veteran Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen and Danish trumpet legend Palle Mikkelborg. Showcasing two established elders and two younger virtuosos, this concert at the Black Diamond auditorium was beautiful and evocative. Opening with “Nature Boy,” Mikkelborg’s processed trumpet was both nuanced and atmospheric, rich with echoes, subtlety and melodic charm.
Both Bro and Morgan played imaginatively, yet remained understated throughout the set. Christensen, an ECM Records stalwart, gave the band a shimmering, elegant backdrop. When they performed Bro’s composition “Lycaster,” which the guitarist had composed for his own father’s funeral, Mikkelborg gently turned the song’s dedication to bassist Charlie Haden, who had passed away the previous night.
The performance was stunning and heartfelt, and when the band returned for an encore, it simply reprised “Nature Boy,” to even higher emotive impact.
Bro is currently finishing his new record for ECM. Like the Copenhagen Jazz Festival itself, his next work is sure to be a tradition in transition.