The Danes get dancing at Aarhus Jazz Festival, Denmark

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The Danish word ‘hugeligt’, which loosely translates as cosy, is a perfect way to describe the small but perfectly formed city of Aarhus. Dotted with picturesque squares, gardens, churches, cobbled streets and the kind of rectangular, functional but soberly stylish buildings that the Scandinavians do particularly well, it is a place with a distinct atmosphere of calm and contentedness that simply seemed to make punters listen more intently to the acts on an excellent bill. Two stellar trios stood out: firstly Japanese pianist Makiko Hirabayashi’s group, featuring a couple of great Danes, double bassist Klavs Hovman and drummer-percussionist Marilyn Mazur, was one of the highlights of the closing weekend. Vaguely recalling My Song-era Jarrett, Hirbayashi played melodies that were loose and leisurely but had an intense rhythmic fire provided by her accompanists, in particular Mazur whose clever subversion of marching beats and African clavé patterns provided a joyousness that matched the sun-kissed skies.

In complete contrast was a unique Danish-American trio formed by drummer Stefan Pasborg, saxophonist-clarinetist Lars Greve and pianist Aaron Parks (pictured top). Given the fact that the latter was standing in at very short notice for the scheduled Carsten Dahl, who dropped out on health grounds, the musicians had precious little time to rehearse, and if there was the slightest reticence then it was soon overcome in an absorbing set that moved stealthily between driving rhythms, shifting tonality and still-of-the-night contemplation, in which Greve’s sensual long tones came into their own. This kind of inspired international collaboration did not detract from the breadth of Danish talent, of which a striking example was Ornithopter, which was akin to hearing Mr Coleman’s classic quartet with the leader replaced by Roswell Rudd.

In trumpeter Scott Westh and trombonist Jens Kristian Bang they had an expressive and wholly sensitive front line. Having said that the presence of several other local players who appeared in multiple groups – Hammond organist Kveld Lauritsen, drummer Per Gade, saxophonists Jens Kluver, Christian Wuust and Hans Ulrik– also made for enjoyable moments, particularly when the musicians played in the many small cafes in town where there was no need for amplification, and the rich timbres of each instrument could be enjoyed to the full. Lastly two very contrasting performances really underlined how open-minded the programming is.

The pan-European ensemble Melting Pot Made In Wroclaw, featuring Poles, trumpeter Piotr Damasiewicz and clarinettist Mateusz Rybicki, German drummer Fabian Jung, Danish electronicist and Soren Lyngso Knudsen two Irish, guitarist Shane Latimer and vocalist Lauren Kinsella, was a freely improvised session that had more moments of fascination than flatness, while a couple of gigs by the quite fabulous guitarist Uffe Steen, one in particular with American vocalist James Loveless, showed that the blues is alive and well in Denmark. The sight of a few hundred people shimmying in a tent to the sound of ‘Stormy Monday Blues’ was just as uplifting as that of an audience listening rapt to abstract sounds produced very much in the moment. The stylistic range proved a fitting allegory for the Aarhus jazz festival itself: challenging its audience all the while making it get up and dance.          

– Kevin Le Gendre

– Photo courtesy: Inge Lynggaard Hansen