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Thursday, March 16, 2023

New - Danish - Horizons for the Piano Trio

By Eyal Hareuveni

Three Danish trios offer highly original, personal and poetic approaches for the piano trios, looking back into the rich legacy of jazz and free improvisation but also marking promising starting points for the future.

Peter Bruun, Søren Kjærgaard & Jonas Westergaard - Thēsaurós (Ilk Music, 2023)

Danish drummer Peter Bruun, pianist Søren Kjærgaard and double bass player Jonas Westergaard (who resides now in Berlin) began working together at the late nineties while all were students at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen. At that time these three musicians-improvisers-composers were inseparable, beginning to shape their trio Fuschia as a collective symbiotic entity that immerses itself in the tension between complex stringent structures and improvisation.

After finishing school they parted ways. Kjærgaard started a long-running trio with drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist Ben Street, led a Danish trio with Westergaard and a duo with legendary inter-disciplinary artist Torben Ulrich (the father of Metallica’s drummer, Lars Ulrich). Bruun joined Django Bates’ Belovèd and formed groups like the folk-pop Eggs Laid by Tigers (with Westergarrd) dedicated to the poetry of Dylan Thomas and the All Too Human, and played in the free jazz trio with trombonist Samuel Blaser and guitarist Marc Ducret. Westergaard worked with John Tchicai and in recent years with the DLW trio with vibes player Christopher Dell and drummer Christian Lillinger.

The 2016 edition of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival united Fuchsia and since then it has become an annual tradition, and Kjærgaard, now a professor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Bruun and Westergaard play every year a free improvising set in the festival. But since the trio resumed rehearsing regularly, Westergaard rearranged material that was originally commissioned by the 2014 edition of Berlin’s Serious Series Festival for a septet, later released as Positioner/Positions (Ilk Music, 2021). This album marked the first part of a new trilogy of the trio.

Bruun had been working since 2018 on the music for the second part of the trilogy, the double vinyl album Thēsaurós, likely to be followed by a third part composed by Kjærgaard. Bruun has been experimenting with a concept he calls Rhythm Design which has evolved from a research project into a system of writing music with complex rhythmic patterns as skeletal forms for his composition (you can find more information. Including scores and interview in Bruun’s website). For Thēsaurós he chose three different signatures - 12/11, 12/13, and 18/17 - as an examination of polymetric structures and exploration of the potentials between the structured and the intuitive through embodiment. Kjærgaard practiced these rhythmic patterns relentlessly until they felt they were part of him. Westergaard then extracted his own bass parts from the endlessly winding piano parts. Following countless, extended rehearsals that shaped synonymous strategies of playing these intricate, labyrinthian structures, the trio ended up cutting more than 20 hours of music in the studio, with most of the takes stretching between 10-15 minutes. Seven of these extended pieces made it into Thēsaurós.

The ambitious and challenging music of Thēsaurós demands repeated deep listening in order to decipher its complex, subtle and layered structures as well as the unpredictable inner logic and mind games but it compensates with its rare, haunting and intriguing beauty. The more you listen to Thēsaurós, its music resonates more and more. The music flows naturally, keeps its positive tension, and is performed with coherence and commanding elegance. It moves freely between Nordic, chamber jazz and modern jazz ("Thēsaurō's No. 6 [18/17]: Epitome" and “Thēsaurós No 2 [12/11]: Kinesis”) to contemporary chamber music (“Thēsaurós No 4 [12/13]: Treasure”) and intuitive, free improvisation (the last, live hypnotic piece “Thēsaurós No 7: Casual Structures”), often in the same piece. This music looks back into the legacy of the piano trio but also marks a promising starting point for the future. Obviously, the music stresses a deep affinity achieved not only through the long-time connection between the old friends Kjærgaard, Bruun and Westergaard but also through long and tasking processing and immersion from every conceivable perspective, including a bodily understanding of the musical concepts, in order to achieve such a profound and coherent work.

Inspiring and simply magnificent. 

Torben Snekkestad / Søren Kjærgaard / Tomo Jacobson - SPIRIT SPIRIT (Gotta Let It Out, 2022) 

Norwegian, Copenhagen-based sax player (also a trumpeter) Torben Snekkestad began to work with Kjærgaard in The Living Room trio (with fellow Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen), played with Bruun’s Unintended Consequences (Ilk Music, 2013), alongside Kjærgaard, Westergaard and Norwegian trumpeter Eivind Lønning, and continued to work closely with Kjærgaard. Last year this duo released the sublime and poetic Another Way Of The Heart (Trost, 2022). Like Kjærgaard, Snekkestad teaches at the Danish Rhythmic Music Conservatory.

Snekkestad and Kjærgaard trio with Polish, Copenhagen-based double bass player and head of the label Gotta Let It Out, Tomo Jacobson, was formed in 2016. SPIRIT SPIRIT is its debut album, released on the last day of 2022. It is a 38-minute, nine parts suite with an epilogue, edited and composed from almost three hours of spontaneously improvised studio recordings by the trio. Its dynamics correspond with Thēsaurós, as this is a democratic trio that relies on deep listening with the three musicians keep challenging each other with their highly personal and unorthodox approaches, but in a much more minimalist and sparse, introspective and enigmatic manner than the one expressed in Thēsaurós. The profound poetic interplay of Snekkestad and Kjærgaard as well as their sonic imagination informs the suggestive, austere atmosphere of this inspiring and most beautiful meeting, with Jacobson’s extended bowing techniques intensifying its melancholic, dark tones.

Paris Peacock - Wingbeats (Ilk Music, 2023) 

Snekkestad (on saxophone and reed trumpet) and Bruun (on prepared tǎpan and micro percussion) return in another singular piano trio, this time with soul brother, pianist Simon Toldam (on prepared piano) in the NFT (Non-Fungible-Token) Paris Peacock, with sound designer August Wanngren and in collaboration with NFT Troels Abrahamsen. Paris Peacock was inspired by British photographer Levon Biss' super-enlarged images of insects, especially the butterfly Paris Peacock . The NFT platform offers exclusive access to supplemented content that illuminates the music and its magnifying conception in various ways through; video, essays, documentation material, as well as extended liner notes by musician/composer Simon Toldam.

Toldam refers Wingbeats to Edward Lorenz’s seminal article from 1972 about the chaos theory and the butterfly effect, reminding us that nothing in our world is set in stone and even small actions can have great power. “Now more than ever, I find it important to pay attention to details and have a genuine trust, that even small changes in our life have a severe impact on the world we are living in. To me, this mindset is similar to the art of improvised music; the very first little sound played will set the direction for the whole performance, and therefore bears defining importance,” writes Toldam in his liner notes.

The 40-minute Wingbeats was recorded live at Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen and is influenced by Biss's Microsculpture of extreme, enlarged insects, and especially the image of Paris Peacock, and featuring Toldam’s Magnified Micro Music concept. Toldam drew three timelines through the image - loosely inspired by Danish electronic music pioneer Else Marie Pade. These lines travel through deep black nothings; varied colorful patterns; butterfly hair and eyes, which all are inspiringly translatable to various musical parameters; dynamics; densities; repetitions; and timbre. And beyond the more or less concrete transformation from image to sound, there's also the influence of communication between the image and our musical intuition.

The Wingbeats composition used maximally cranked microphones placed close to their acoustic instruments that were playing at a whisper’s volume in order to explore and investigate subtle sonic fields that are rarely heard, much like a magnifying glass for sound. This abstract and enigmatic composition forces you to think anew about how you listen, process this elusive sonic experience in space and time and adjust your mindset to its disorienting, sparse sounds. Obviously, your sensitivity to the most subtle, microtonal gestures and dynamics deepens and after repeated, deep listening your sonic doors of perception gather unique insights and endless other possibilities. This composition does not promise instant karma but its austere, humble and compassionate approach teaches us that even the slightest change in behavior or mindset from any one of us will have an impact on someone else, at some point. Maybe not in a week, or even a year - but perhaps in 10 years or 50 years or after we have passed on and transitioned to the eternal butterfly fields.