From Concert Halls to the Streets at 40th Annual Copenhagen Jazz Fest


Marilyn Mazur performs at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, which ran July 5–14 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

(Photo: Kristoffer Juel Poulsen)

Music spilled out of regal concert halls and onto the streets to mark the Copenhagen Jazz Festival’s 40th anniversary.

The festival, which ran July 5–14 and was hosted by the world-famous Jazzhus Montmartre, drafted a number of established headline acts, including Gilberto Gil, Marcus Miller and Gladys Knight, while welcoming creative artists of all stripes. The booking was smart and diverse, with plenty of international artists, a confluence of American and European musicians, and some of the best players in Denmark.

Percussionist Airto Moreira and singer Flora Purim played an energetic show for the festival’s outdoor Jazz By The Sea series. And despite the evening’s cool weather, Moreira’s work was undaunted, as he displayed great command and stamina. Other crowd-pleasing artists—like drummer Makaya McCraven, pianist Christian Sands, and soulful singers Cory Henry and José James—also played the seaside stage during the week. On the streets, the New Orleans-inspired Fringe Fest, which ran concurrently to the Copenhagen festival, added Mardi Gras Indians and hot brass bands to the proceedings.

One source of interaction between Danish and international artists was the music series helmed by reedist Benjamin Koppel and his Cowbell label. During the past decade, Koppel has brought a collaborative spirit to the festival, presenting (and playing with) talented musicians from all over the world.

This year, at the elegant Betty Nansen Teatret, he brought in an impressive array of performers, including drummer Bernard Purdie, for a pair of unique shows: one supporting American singer Kate Shutt and another with trumpeter Randy Brecker. Purdie and Brecker presented their Jazz & Soul Revue, highlighting the drummer’s razor-sharp playing and Brecker’s fine chops. For their strutting first set, the band sounded much like Cannonball Adderley’s classic quintet.

Cowbell’s nonstop schedule also presented veteran percussionist Marilyn Mazur’s Human Patterns with a Danish all-star band that included Koppel. Mazur, an inspiring percussive force, bounced rhythms off drummer Alex Riel, occasionally evoking a hypnotic Mysterious Traveler-era Weather Report.

The festival and Koppel also brought Joshua Redman’s Still Dreaming project to the Cowbell series. Inspired by Redman’s father, Dewey, and his tenure alongside Ornette Coleman’s associates in Old & New Dreams, the newer group performed tunes by its bassist, Scott Colley, and Redman off the 2018 album Still Dreaming (Nonesuch), as well as Don Cherry’s “Mopti” and a moving rendition of Charlie Haden’s “Silence.”

During the festival, Brorson’s Church hosted an impressive collaboration among Danish guitarist Jakob Bro, bassist Larry Grenadier and percussionist Jorge Rossy. Playing in-the-round, the trio was intimately engaged from the beginning of the show. Bro’s guitar work always is evolving, and his playing on this night was remarkably melodic and restrained. The musicians showed utmost focus while filling the room with quiet, compelling sounds as Rossy eschewed rhythm for sonic coloring and Grenadier’s bass intertwined with Bro’s gentle guitar meditations throughout.

The church also presented Denmark’s favorite odd-jazz ensemble, the New Jungle Orchestra, which featured bandleader/guitarist Pierre Dørge and a special guest, Danish trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg. The orchestra playfully prowled the aisles as it began the set, great arrangements and impressive soloing bolstering the band’s antic spirit. Dørge led the group with humor and authority, but guest player Mikkelborg had time in the spotlight. The pair favors effects and electronic processing, and it was fascinating to watch the two face off. Dørge’s “Mingus’ Birthday Party” was energetic and playful, the band segueing into some classic Ellingtonia.

Another satisfying Danish treat were the efforts of the hardworking Hess brothers, pianist Nikolaj and drummer-composer Mikkel, along with bassist Anders Christensen. The siblings have known their musical partner for decades, and during the festival played together at several shows, performing after-hours at the Apollo Bar all week.

Mikkel Hess’ most outstanding showcase was the dramatic Hess Is More: Apollonian Circle, a protean performance piece that incorporated immaculate set design and costuming with progressive pop, electronica and jazz, as well as wine, poetry and dance. Just another example of the range, quality and excitement of The Copenhagen Jazz Festival. DB

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified vocalist Kate Shutt. DownBeat regrets the error.

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