Anderskov’s Lyrical Approach Excites at Nordic Cool
Nordic jazz artists routinely find viable performance opportunities in Washington, D.C., whether it’s at major institutions or ground-level jazz clubs. They were especially well-represented at the Kennedy Center’s 2013 Nordic Cool festival—a 27-day extravaganza of multiple musical genres on Feb. 19–March 17 that featured more than 750 artists from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Greenland, the Faroe Islands the Åland Islands.
Pianist Jacob Anderskov was one of many musicians who came from Denmark to impart some ambassadorial exchanges by way of his enchanting Agnostic Revelations, a notable quartet steered deftly by Gerald Cleaver’s combustive drumming and Michael Formanek’s propulsive bass lines. The combo has previously employed Chris Speed on tenor saxophone and clarinet, but its March 9 performance at the Kennedy Center featured Ellery Eskelin on tenor saxophone. The group delivered a fascinating set of originals that dispelled often long-held notions of modern Nordic jazz as being icy.
At times, the music swung mightily thanks to the group’s supple rhythm section, and Formanek, in particular, masterfully anchored the ensemble with solid lines that grooved as much as goaded the momentum. Yet the concert retained a transfixing mystery throughout as Anderskov’s evocative compositions emphasized elusive lyricism over explicit melodicism. Anderskov didn’t seem concerned with concocting melodic earworms, nor did he throw his considerable keyboard skills into Tatum-like tantrums for sheer excitability. In fact, from a soloist standpoint, he gave more room for Eskelin’s elliptical passages to shine than his own sparse, often pointillist improvisations.
During the first set, the composition with the strongest hook, “Blue In The Face,” arrived at the end. Anderskov introduced the tune—set to a bluesy, pneumatic swing—with a poignant solo piano improvisation marked by halting phrases and suspenseful displays of tension and release. It was one of the rare moments in which Anderskov put his pianism squarely under the spotlight. Otherwise, he mostly burrowed his improvisations deep inside his diaphanous compositions, particularly on the slow-moving “Summer Solstices” and the unsettling ballad “Sand.”
Some of the more rambunctious moments occurred on the restive “Diamonds Are For Unreal People,” on which Anderskov pecked out a serrated motif atop a slippery rhythmic bed as Eskelin’s tenor saxophones lines weaved throughout. An untitled piece featuring Eskelin’s haunting lyricism with a furious rhythmic undertow recalled Ornette Coleman’s early ’70s period.
Anderskov is a superb progeny of a Nordic jazz legacy that started in the 1950s with residencies by such American jazz legends as Dexter Gordon, Kenny Drew, Stan Getz and Ben Webster. His compositions and performances are firmly rooted in straightahead jazz, despite their modernity and obvious European nature.