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Denmark has long welcomed American expat jazz musicians seeking shelter from the ups and downs of the US jazz circuit. Since the 1960s, a steady stream of such American heavyweights as saxophonists Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon has given Danish jazz a strong international flavour that brims with a no-frills craftsmanship which lets the music flow. It may not be earth-shatteringly original but as the opening two nights of a week of Danish jazz from the Stunt Records stable showed at the Pizza Express, it makes for exciting live music.
On the first night, vocalist Katrine Madsen opened with a makeover of the standard repertoire, her husky world-weary voice giving a torch-singer’s sensuality even to the early Beatles hit “Can’t Buy Me Love”. Madsen has a neat way of tumbling lyrics together and still making musical sense, although occasionally she reached beyond her technique. This was compensated for by her excellent quartet. Bass and drums swung hard, the trumpet solos added lustre and pianist Henrik Gunde provided extra sparkle with his two-handed independence and subtle voicings.
The next night, 76-year-old US-born drummer Ed Thigpen, a Copenhagen resident since 1972, delivered two sets of exemplary pre-modal modern jazz. After a long stint swishing away behind Ella Fitzgerald, Thigpen became known as “Mr Brushes”, but this gig demanded full-on modernism, complete with pinging symbols and clattering snare drum. The largely original repertoire, based mostly on the blues and standard changes, had tricky boppish melody lines with sharply harmonised trumpet and tenor sax. Both sets opened with a gospel-tinged blues, plunged into loping medium tempo workouts and ended speedily after a ballad feature.
The three soloists, Anders Bercrantz on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Tomas Frank and pianist Kasper Villaume, improvised with technical flair and an effortless soul that comes from inside the jazz tradition. Particularly impressive was the sharp articulation of sax and trumpet, and the band’s warm sound and overall feeling for the blues.
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