09 May 2007

Europe visits via Melbourne

Melbourne has imported a few big names for its recent Jazz Festivals, and it’s having an effect on the rest of Australia as these names go on tour. Most of them don’t reach Canberra, but we had Herbie Hancock recently, and last night we heard the Jens Winther European Quintet as the European, or perhaps Scandinavian, contingent. Jens is not a big-name drawcard like Herbie, so (instead of the Canberra Theatre) he performed at the Jazz School for a lot less money. That’s sad, but an opportunity for those who did attend. While the names are not so well known, the performance was spectacular. So thanks go to Miroslav Bukovsky for his efforts to bring them here. This was a great night of jazz in the 50s/60s tradition of Miles and post bop, held in a club-like venue for a small group of students and jazz afficionadoes.

The line-up of the band was standard for the style: Jens Winther (trumpet), Thomas Franck (tenor sax), Ben Besiakov (piano), Jonas Westergaard (bass), Dejan Terzic (drums). The quintet played two sets, and I noticed how each started on a high with a hard bop melody introducing the set. But this was a night of open, exploratory change. The music was written to some degree, but the players took every opportunity for improvisation and variation. Jens and Thomas, especially, led each solo through huge variations: restrained, pensive, hard swing, free. I also noticed how the rhythm section would also change to follow the soloists. At various times, bass, drums and piano sat out for extended passages, so the tonality of the mix was continually changing. At one stage, we heard an unusual combination of piano, bass and trumpet when drums sat out. Otherwise, piano often sat out, leaving a trio format. At one stage, trumpet played alone, or at least with the help of vibrating piano strings, as Jens played directly into the body of the grand piano, and we could hear the resonances in the otherwise deathly quiet and attentive room.

All were highly competent musicians. I felt both the front line players, Jens on trumpet and Thomas on tenor, played highly developed bop styles, with clear intentions and interesting melodic ideas. There were calls and response between the front-liners, and several sessions of swapping fours and shorter passages. There were beautiful harmonies when they each held long, pure notes. They were fast but not blinding, although they often enough dropped into flourishes or faster passages. But this was considered playing, and thus melodically and harmonically exploratory. The rhythm section was solid and mobile in its interaction with the front line. I particularly liked Ben on piano. His comping seemed more classically-influenced, as I (perhaps ignorantly) expect from European musicians. I loved hearing some long, long lines of ascending or descending backing chords on quarter notes. Ben didn’t play too many solos, but what he played was rich in the way only piano can be: in style, in complex and substituted harmony, in melody. He was also lucky to have a gorgeous piano sound from a Yamaha Grand in the band room. (I noticed later it was one of those pianos with full midi implementation. Perhaps this is the very piano I saw in the National Library playing Oscar Peterson a few years ago, where it seemed a ghost was playing as the piano keys and pedals moved, pianola-like).

The band played two sets over several hours, but there were only 6 or 7 tunes (including a few medleys), so each tune was long, and quite a journey. The tunes were mostly originals. The first was Mercury from Jens’ CD called the Planets and influenced by the Holst work of the same name. This started as a hard bop piece, but like all tunes, metamorphosed through various other styles. I missed the other titles, but there was a lovely original 32-bar ballad by Jens, and a lively post bop blues. As for non-originals, there was Body and Soul during the body of the concert, and a final jam where Miroslav Bukovsky and John Mackay joined in for a sometimes frantic blow on Footprints.

Again, Chris Deacon recorded the session for ArtSound, so listen out for this over coming weeks. This was an excellent evening of modern acoustic jazz, with a strong influence of Miles and his fellow travellers from the 50s/60s era. Thanks go especially to Miroslav for bringing this excellent band to Canberra, and for the quote of the night: “Drive safely, and if you come to a fork in the road, take it”.

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