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Copenhagen Jazz Festival 2010 - A Punter's Story Print

The Scandinavians have always struck me as having a rich vein of jazz culture right from my early exposure to Bengt Halberg , stumbled upon at an Oslo club, Lars Gullin at a packed and reverential Flamingo Club, Arne Domnérus on record, the Steeplechase Record Label and everything I heard by the Charlie Parker of the double bass, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (otherwise known as 'NHØP‘, because life is too short).   So I packed my bags, eschewed Edinburgh, Wigan and Birmingham (Jazz Festivals, UK) , bought some Krone at 8.5 and headed for where the musicians and the streets are unpronounceable. .

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  The plan was to avoid the headliners, Redman, Frissell, Hancock, Lovano, Sandborn, Potter and their ilk and find the real Norse source.   OK, so I went to the Diana Krall concert but there are occasions when distaff decisions have the edge.   I've linked some elements, below, should you be interested in a journey of discovery next year

Copenhagen is a delightful city, expensive and somewhat more so with the current state of the pound.   Historically, the Danes don’t figure highly in our curriculum so, apart from remembering that we had an uneasy peace with them when they ran most of East Anglia and Nelson shelled the shit out of them, twice, they are known mostly for raping and pillaging along our north-eastern coast – a pastime since continued by most UK governments.   As a result, sightseeing for the uninformed can be a bit ho-hum.   The Rosenborg Castle is a nice reflection of their favourite King Christian IV, who had 26 children and obviously practised for the nights out in Gateshead.   At another extreme, if you’re into smoking funny stuff, you can visit the Freetown, Christiania, the quasi-hippy settlement, for a 20 krone Tuborg beer and a selection of makings.   For the busy jazz tourist, there is the Copenhagen Hop-on/Hop-off bus at 120 krone, which takes in most of the sights.

Hotels are expensive but there are deals to be had – we stayed at the Copenhagen Plaza Hotel (ok, ok, but I saved up for it), which is well placed for the Tivoli Gardens, the station (35 krone and 15 minutes to the airport) and the city centre, which is walking distance.   The hotel has a board full of plaques commemorating famous visitors and if the place is ok for Dizzy, Dexter, Gerry, Kai, Chick, Benny, Ella, Herbie, Dave, Kenny, Al, Dudley, Woody, Zoot, Oscar and a host of others, it’s ok for me.

Restaurants are pricey, too, but you can suss the options of smørrebrød (sandwiches any way) through cafes to McDonalds, if you're truly loving it.   We lunched/dined at Peder Oxe Restaurant partly to give us access to the events in Gråbrødretorv (a pleasant square) but mainly because it was good quality food at a relatively accessible price – for example, an all-you-can-eat salad at 11 quid.   The pejorative 'touristy' which appears on some reviews is unfair – the tourists go there because they like it.

The jazz festival is an institution and it was said that there were over 1000 gigs in the 10 days of its duration.   This is believable – Politiken publishes a daily festival journal 'JazzLive' (unfortunately only in Danish but you can read the programme), which listed over 100 gigs a day, most of them available for free or the price of a drink.   The Danes seem to like us (we share the disappointment of both being represented by crap footballers) and a Danish Tourism think-tank were quoted as saying that 'Jazz tourists are typically a mature audience, and spend a lot more money than Roskildegæster or cycling tourists,"   There you go, jazz fans beat cyclists and Roskildegæster any day (I think 'Roskildegæster' are 'guests' at the 'Roskilde' pop festival).

Ther first night we settled in the Plaza Library bar, a well-known rendezvous not quite Harry's at the Cipriani but the cocktails are still 10 quid and up and the jazz is better.   We sat listening to what we thought was a Danish quartet to find that the leader was an Irish migrant to Norway (smart thinking), Phil McDermott , playing delightful guitar, accompanied by his mate from Dublin, Kevin Brady , superbly rhythmic and restrained, on drums.   These two formed the core of the unlikely 'Lovely Lads', who had the gig all week and were joined by Scandinavians, en passant.   The Norwegian multi-instrumentalist, Bernt Sverre Kvam , was with them one evening playing guitar and flute (and some exceptional harmonica on 'Dindi') with Niels Guffi Pattesen, the Danish bassist, melodic and percussive on a bass made from an original Viking ship timber and held together by duct-tape.

During the jam, Bernt would occasionally call his changes for a coda but by and large the jazz was seamless American Song Book and the occasional bebop, typified by a rousing 'Four' to end the evening.   Sigurdur Flosason , the Icelandic saxophonist, who played in the Guy Barker Quintet, was with the group on a couple of nights adding a Desmondish lyricism, or altissimo squeaks where necessary, and contributing his own writing to the repertoire.

The following three paragraphs are a bit of a rant, so you can move on, if you prefer.   I've given up going to jazz concerts in large auditoria because they've always been spoilt by the so-called 'sound engineers'.   Amongst others, I've winced through the Julian Joseph big band, George Benson at the Barbican and Dizzy miked up at the RFH like a football stadium, occasionally enduring enough reverb to make your ears bleed.   The Diana Krall performance in the Tivoli Concert Hall was no exception.

As any fule kno, when an instrument starts to speak, there is a transient which is characteristic of the instrument before it settles to the fundamental or overtone that the musician is generating.   This transient is particularly severe on a plucked or struck string instrument such as a bass or piano and, because of its fast changing nature, it is a significant peak and contains much high frequency content.   A further generator of high frequencies on a plucked instrument is longitudinal movement along the string by the player's hand fingering the stops (finger noise).   With a high pass filter (the treble control) these frequencies are heard preferentially and, in severe cases (too much treble), the frequencies can be 'clipped' by an overloaded amplifier giving rise to 'clicks'.

And 'too much treble' was what we had.   No mellifluous, breathy contralto from the lady, only solos of finger noise and clicks from John Clayton on bass, gross distortion with every high percussive piano chord, only ride cymbal and brush noise from the drummer (I couldn't catch if it was Jeff Hamilton) and Anthony Wilson's guitar over-amplified.   Bits of a nice up-tempo 'Cheek to Cheek' and 'I was doing alright' struggled through and there was sure to have been lovely things happening on-stage.   I wish that my 75 quid ticket had permitted me to hear them.   Perhaps, as Ms. Krall's encore explained, it was a 'Simple Twist of Fate'.

That expensive disappointment was odd because prior to the concert we had listened to the Tivolis Big Band at the Harmonipavillonen, an open air bandstand in the Tivoli gardens , which was acoustically beautifully balanced.   This band and the Danish Radio band keep that genre's flag flying and we were treated to some excellent arrangements with notable solos from Nicolai Schultz on 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' and Vincent Nilsson on 'Frankie and Johnnie'.   The band played us into the Krall Concert with a roaring 'Love For Sale', a la Buddy Rich.

We thought we ought to dig some avant-garde and chose to eat in Gråbrødretorv to the strains of Jakob Davidsen's 'Kammerat Orkester' an eclectic group comprising Piano, Tuba, French Horn, Clarinet and Cello.   Definitely not an aid to digestion but spiky, Bernsteinish phrasing and punctuation was interesting but not much room for laid back improvisation.   I was impressed by the superb musicianship but it's a taste I've yet to acquire - the audience in the square, however, were very enthusiastic.

We missed a lot – at 100 gigs a day it would be like a diet of chocolate cake.   I was disappointed that a heaving Jazzhus Montmartre couldn't get us in to Ole Kock Hansen’s Celebration of NHØP and we overlooked the jam sessions at La Fontaine , a highly-recommended club, where, we were told, that the local musicians were queueing for a chorus.   Still, next year…

festival.jpgCopenhagen Jazz Festival
hallberg.jpgBengt Halberg
ImageLars Gullin
ImageArne Domnérus
ImageSteeplechase Record Label
Jazz Festivals, UK
ImageRosenborg Castle
ImageCopenhagen Hop-on/Hop-off
ImageCopenhagen Plaza Hotel
ImagePeder Oxe Restaurant
ImagePhil McDermott
ImageKevin Brady
ImageBernt Sverre Kvam
ImageSigurdur Flosason
ImageJakob Davidsen
ImageNicolai Schultz
ImageVincent Nilsson ImageJazzhus Montmartre
ImageOle Kock Hansen
ImageLa Fontaine
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