Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2010
As it turned out, it became a magical concert where the material gained new nuances and shone as bright as on the record. After a promising start with a shimmering version of "Weightless," the opener on the album, Chris Cheek got the impossible assignment of following Lee Konitz' sublime opening line on "Evening Song" and while he got off to a somehow anonymous start, he slowly worked himself into the material and created a solo of great beauty and as the evening unfolded he played himself completely out of Konitz shadow. Adding to to the palette of sound was also the inclusion of tenor saxophonist George Garzone, who joined the group on "Greenland," and continued to play an important role for the rest of the evening, bringing a burning tone to complement the more subdued passion of Cheek. Later on, Garzone would let himself completely go for a moment of total catharsis when he played with pianist Rasmus Ehlers and his trio at Cafe Blågårds Apotek, but in this context he limited himself in a constructive way, letting the anguish and pain out in brief strokes.
Creating the perfect framework around the saxophonists and guitarists were Christensen and Høyer whose elegant work secured the ambient feel that let the rich textures come to the fore. After a perfect conclusion, with Bro and Frisell playing in a duo on "Starting Point," the band was brought together for an extra, a speciel treat that was a performance of the track, "Hamsun," that didn't make it to the final cut of the album. It says something of the strength of Balladeering that a song like this was left out because it didn't fit into the work as a whole. Here, however, it was allowed to put the beauty of the album into relief and support the claim that Bro has created a modern masterpiece that can be seen as a high watermark in Danish jazz.
Songs of Love and Life
The festival offered the chance to hear some of the finest instrumentalists in jazz, but there was also an opportunity to encounter the strength of the human voice in different contexts, ranging from electronic soundscapes and a classic quartet setting to intimate chamber pop.
Danish-Swedish Nuaia offered a haunting experience in the surroundings of Københavns Hovedbibliotek, a library in the heart of Copenhagen. Here, the three-piece combined electronically modulated sounds from keyboard and guitar with rattling percussion and the rich voice of the wonderful Sofie Norling, one of the greatest vocal talents on the Swedish scene. On compositions like the crystalline "I Run" and "Igloo," bell-like sounds, electronic glitches and spheric guitar wrapped itself around the expressive voice of the singer who delved deep into themes of pain and regret.
A more smooth approach to jazz singing was given by Gretchen Parlato, whose natural virtousity has been compared to the sweet sounds of a saxophone. On her rendedition of Herbie Hancock's "Butterfly," the singer used her hands to give a percussive effect while her voice dripped like honey from a tree. Mixing self-penned tunes with lesser known originals, like a convincing reading of Thelonious Monk's "Ugly Beauty," Parlato avoided the trap of doing overdone standard interpretations and her band of pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist Alan Hampton and Mark Guiliana did a perfect job, accompanying her in a solid, swinging style.
Tight accompaniment also characterised the small chamber-like group that singer Martha Wainwright brought with her for a concert in Det Kongelige Teater (The Royal Theatre) where the program consisted of songs made famous by the French chanteuse Edith Piaf. While not a jazz singer in the classic sense, Wainwright has the most important ability of any singer, whether in jazz or popular song, she is able to dramatise and interpret lyrics, making even the most banal and outrageous love stories seem convincing. Adding a touch of humor and existential sensibility, Wainwright cut to the heart of the matter of Piaf's oeuvre, catching the tragic vulnerability that lies in the cabaret genre in general and specifically in the type of tales favored by Piaf. Using a minimal setting with piano, bass and guitar and the powerful register of the singer's voice, an almost otherworldly beauty was created in a time bubble somewhere between past, present and future.
Like Martha Wainwright's meeting with Edith Piaf, what characterized this year's Copenhagen Jazz Festival, as whole, was that it understood to embrace all aspects of musical time, making a festival for all ages, young and old. Jazz was seen with all its many possibilities, the music of then and now, a life-affirming force permeating throughout the city of Copenhagen and spilling over its borders.