Copenhagen Jazz Fest Embraces Sprawling Vision of Jazz

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The band LoFi, featuring saxophonist Laura Toxvaerd (right), performs during the Copenhagen Jazz Fest. (Photo: Peter Gannushkin)

The 10-day Copenhagen Jazz Festival has been happening every July since 1979, completely taking over this Danish capital city, inhabiting theaters, clubs, parks and streets. Many of the shows are free, and the ticketed concerts have a broad price range, depending on the stature of the artist. In this respect, it’s similar to the festivals of Montreal, Detroit and Rochester, although in the case of Copenhagen, gigs encompass the entire spread of the city and its suburbs, not just a downtown hub.

I attended the fest for three days July 10–12, and even though this was my second visit, there was still a bewildering schedule to absorb, a sprawling city to navigate and many difficult choices to be made. Ultimately, it was best not to be too ambitious, and avoid selecting gigs that were overlapping or located in far-flung parts of the city. It was wiser to group a few shows in a selected zone, to minimize the intense degree of flitting about that might be required.

A prime place to start the day was at the free admission 3 p.m. concerts, presented in the foyer of the Skuespilhuset concert hall. On July 10, a performance called Omdrejninger took place in the round, which was appropriate, as the word is Danish for “revolutions,” pertaining to the r.p.m. of vinyl. This surround-sound concept was conceived by guitarist Mark Solborg and sound-installation artist Christian Skjødt, inviting along Ingar Zach (percussion) and Axel Dörner (modified slide trumpet).

Their album was released by the ILK collective, which also operates as a record label. Zach’s massive bass drum was often used as a surface for cymbal or gong rubbing or scraping, while Skjødt took the group sounds and whirled them around the circular speaker system with a highly controlled flair for placement and timing. Dörner’s horn had a steampunk plunger system attached, fed through a laptop processing hatch, while Solborg’s guitar was itself appealingly buried in effects. In a positive, enthralling way, it was sometimes a challenge to discern exactly which player was responsible for which whirling sonic delicacy. One group member would establish a sound before releasing it to scoot off around the spherical space.

On July 11, in the same location, the new-ish combo Konge set up on a conventionally placed stage, their lineup featuring saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and drummer Kresten Osgood. They fired off as one, hardly letting up during this stormy blowout, but the second piece had saxophonist Signe Emmeluth as a formidable force on the other side of the stage to Gustafsson’s soprano. Osgood came to the stage-front chanting, “It’s all political, you know it’s all political,” then jumped back to the drums to rekindle the blaze. Next, he remained the joker, standing on a front-row chair, soloing on what sounded like a blade of grass. The next section took on a funereal, Albert Ayler-esque wail, but after around 40 minutes, Konge’s inspiration was starting to dry up, the energy having somehow escaped the room.

Some of the better sets were to be found in the converted slaughterhouse of 5e, which is close to the city center although deeply alternative in nature. Between four or five nightly sets were organized by ILK Music, tending toward free improvisation or extreme compositional styles.

The ILK Horns are a saxophone sextet directed by Lotte Anker, and include two baritones, three tenors and alto. After intoning text from the day’s newspapers, the tonguing and false fingerings began gradually, leading to fierce precision sputtering in clustered groupings. Anker appeared to subtly lead her seated cohorts with hand signals, mostly to prompt a softening of volume at strategic points. Two clarinets replaced a baritone and tenor, with the saxophonists standing up, one by one, building up to a staggered, wailing wall of force.

All Too Human featured the French guitarist Marc Ducret, trumpeter Kasper Tranberg, Simon Toldam (Roland keys) and drummer Peter Bruun, himself also operating brutal Korg bass patterns. They traveled from pomp prog to splintered improvisation, with one high spot being a spiky guitar-drums tussle.

The outstanding set of the night was supplied by LoFi (drummer Marc Lohr and pianist Anders Filipsen) with a guesting Laura Toxvaerd on alto saxophone. Her playing has a cutting, controlled power, having already impressed during the ILK Horns set, but here completely unbound, set free to squall. Her bleating accuracy has a harsh hardness that’s forming a fresh female soloing vanguard, alongside fellow altoist Mette Rasmussen, as well as Konge’s Emmeluth.

Toxvaerd leaned down to the stone floor, ripping out twisting, unrelenting streams, frequently muting the bell against her thigh. Then Filipsen entered into a duo with a vocal-whooping Lohr, his upright piano scraped directly on its strings, Toxvaerd eventually returning with bent, smeared phrases.

Toxvaerd plays with a complete commitment, and the stance is as much one of performance art as music. After roaming into the audience to find new acoustic pockets, she then rested to sip beer and puff on a cigarette, casually posed in a noir corner while her partners fought it out with sheer uninhibited gusto. Her tone’s edges were pushed to the limit, emitting long, low, breathy notes as Filipsen ruminated and Lohr manipulated a small electronic noise device with an amped finger-squish, ending up pressed to his skins, with controlled feedback. All of the dynamic ranges were present, as the trio climaxed with a blurred and slurred blues mutation.

In contrast, concerts were also presented in the Haveselskabets Have park, along the wealthy-looking, tree-lined avenue of Fredriksburg. This was a very tranquil, scenic setting for an evening of music by the veteran Danish guitarist Pierre Dørge, at first in a trio formation, and then with his New Jungle Orchestra.

Opening with “Stranger Than Jim” (dedicated to movie director Jim Jarmusch), the expanded band largely kept to their African promise, with Dørge actively mirroring Congolese soukous during his soloing. An end run moved more towards India, with some flashy surf-guitar solos, this marking a recovery from a mid-set slump, where a few of the tunes drifted around in search of a home. An altered version of “Caravan” provided another shift in style for this lively, goodtime Afro-Indo fusion crew.

Proximity could be an advantage, as two of Copenhagen’s key jazz clubs are within about a 10-minute walk of each other. A free 7 p.m. set on the outdoor stage just outside the Jazzhouse presented Cortex, one of Norway’s most exciting bands, combining limber funk momentum with Ornette Coleman-esque horn jostle. Trumpet and tenor riffed in unison, then the bass and drums piled in, traveling towards a slogging blues theme. A mightily fibrillating tenor solo by Kristoffer Berre Alberts was joined by Thomas Johansson’s crackling trumpet, taking it all out to the edges one final time.

Then, at 8 p.m., in the famed old joint, Jazzhus Montmartre, a trio of Jakob Bro (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass) and Joey Baron (drums) were playing a pair of sets. Dreamy guitar coruscations spumed toward Baron’s scuttling brushwork, and Morgan provided a nimble, sidewalk-hopping solo. An initially subtle pace built up into a formidable groove, providing an opportunity to inhabit this historic club with some suitably slick sounds. DB


On Sale Now
January 2018
Esperanza Spalding
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