Officially established in 1979, the annual Copenhagen Jazz Festival ran from July 5-14. That’s 10 days, over 100 different venues and approximately 1,000 concerts in the thriving Danish city during the peak of summer. Unlike some of the other international jazz festivals these days the fest adheres to a strict but expansive jazz program, and rather than following one guiding light, the fest is driven by multiple programmers resulting in a variety of different music series conceived independently from one another. As a result jazz was being presented all day long in restaurants, bars, small cafes, large auditoriums, authentic jazz clubs, outside stages, museums and art spaces alike. It should be noted that none of this would be possible without ample support from Denmark’s Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs.
Naturally, there’s a preponderance of European jazz but also an impressive mixing of American and Danish musicians and some mainstream events featuring imported American artists such as bassist Marcus Miller, the jam-band Medeski Martin & Wood and singers Diane Reeves and Cassandra Wilson. One highlight from the Concert Hall series was the David Murray Infinity Quartet with Macy Gray; with several live shows under their belt they’re finally hitting stride. Mixing tunes from Murray’s new CD, Be My Monster Love with Ellington’s “In My Solitude,” a Butch Morris composition and a couple of Macy favorites, this revue mixed soulful singing and progressive jazz in fairly equal doses, making Gray and Murray the Billie Holiday and Lester Young for the next generation.
It’s understood that Denmark has a longstanding affection for jazz expatriates and beloved American musicians like Dexter Gordon, Ben Webster and Kenny Drew are still being remembered decades after the fact. In more recent years respected Boston saxophonists George Garzone and Jerry Bergonzi have made lengthy sojourns to Copenhagen, and both men played multiple gigs with accomplished Danish musicians who brought out the best in them during the festival. Garzone was particularly engaging at the Jazz Cup Café playing with the Rasmus Ehers Trio and, as per usual, Bergonzi tore it up the Christiania JazzClub with the Carl Winter Trio. Current expats guitarist Doug Raney and saxophonist Bob Rockwell performed with their Scandinavian bandmates; both have been fully embraced by the Danish jazz community.
The venerable Jazzhouse has rebounded from its 2011 flooding and presented talent all week long, including an international quintet led by Danish composer/pianist Søren Kjærgaard featuring drummer Andrew Cyrille, bassist Thomas Morgan, saxophonist Andrew D’Angelo and singer Maria Laurette-Friis. Percussionist extraordinaire Marilyn Mazur played several shows at the festival, but her Jazzhouse gig presenting the Spirit Cave band was a fusion standout, with guitarist Elvind Aarset, Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær playing through a series of electronic processors and Jan Bang adding even more sounds of technology into the mix. Lebanese-born, Paris-based Arabic trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf’s Wind quintet included saxophonist Mark Turner, bassist Larry Grenadier, pianist Frank Woeste and drummer Clarence Penn, and Maalouf entertained the Jazzhouse audience with his concise playing and cool compositions as well as his humorous numerology-based stage patter.
Gustavs Bistro featured the great Italian pianist Enrico Pieranunzi for three nights during the dinner hours while the reliable Huset Café featured notable mavericks, including Sunny Murray and Kresten Osgood, and a set by drummer Gerald Cleaver. And speaking of drummers, Danish drummer Stefan Pasborg is a fast-rising star (and godson to Danish drum legend Alex Riel) who played in several different ensembles during the festival, including a razor-sharp Stax tribute band and his Free Moby Dick project, a badass instrumental group that played versions of classic rock tunes like Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” a Led Zeppelin medley and King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.”
The Valby Summer Jazz folks were busy as well, showcasing their driving force, Danish saxophonist Benjamin Koppel, and his family, often aided and abetted by pianist Kenny Werner. Valby also presented the Cookers, featuring the veteran lineup of Eddie Henderson, Billy Harper, Billy Hart, David Weiss, Cecil McBee and George Cables.
Koppel’s own performance with Joe Lovano was quite special, as it was the international premier of the Joe Lovano & Benjamin Koppel Mezzo Sax Meeting. The Danish-invented mezzo-saxophone is a new instrument; Koppel acquired the first one and then a much-enamored Lovano got the next, hence their new-sax concerto supported by Kenny Werner, drummer Audie Kieve and Swiss master bassist Palle Danielsson. Fellow Berklee-alum George Garzone was in the audience and after the second set Lovano, Garzone and Kenny Werner invaded the Mikkel Hess Spacelab jam at CafeScenen. First, just Garzone and Werner were onstage and then Lovano sat down at the drums and stayed there-along with Danish bassist Anders “AC” Christensen-for a long, amazing jam session that concluded with Werner doing a solo rendition of “You Must Believe In Spring.”
Singer Betty LaVette played outdoors as part of the Jazz by the Sea series and once again gave it her all. This 50th anniversary tour is the culmination of LaVette’s slow, miraculous comeback. She closed the show with her reliably momentous version of the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me.”
The State Sessions Special was a small series that included dignitaries Charles Lloyd with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland doing their Sangam project, as well as Bill Frisell at the National Gallery of Denmark, showcasing his Big Sur Sextet with violinists Jenny Scheinman and Carrie Rodriguez, cellist Hank Roberts and Eyvind Kang on viola. The Jazzhus Montmarte was swinging every night thanks to jam-leader/NYC drummer Lee Pearson, and before the week was out everyone from David Murray and Macy Gray to Hungarian saxophonist Gabor Bola to drummers Alex Riel, Jonathan Blake and Billy Hart came up to play.
Finally, a shout out to Mayhem-not exactly part of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival program, Mayhem is a flashpoint art/fringe culture gathering space and endeavor in a dicey part of Copenhagen that seems to draw a strong undercurrent of totally open-minded young Danes. Last Saturday night, the Mayhem of avant-garde sound collisions ended with a set by German power-saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Predictably, Brötzmann’s band projected an amazing assault of free music that the mostly Danish audience seemed to love. And that’s Copenhagen.