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Copenhagen Jazz Fest: Jeff Beck, Pharoah Sanders, Brad Mehldau Trio Play for Keeps

Some 100 venues host over 1400 performing acts during the nine-day event.

The 40th edition of the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, which runs from July 6 to 15, featured a truly impressive range of music with approximately 100 venues hosting over 1400 performing acts. The citywide celebration relies on a loose consortium of independent promoters, producers, programmers, musicians and club owners to book an array of talent showcasing Danish artists, elder journeymen, new talent and international stars from the world over — all with a healthy respect for the history and traditions of jazz.

Marquee acts like Jeff Beck, The Roots, and the Brad Mehldau Trio all had big nights early in the festival, while saxophone icon Pharoah Sanders (pictured) took the stage for two sold-out shows at the intimate Brorson’s Church.  Veteran drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath enjoyed the support of a decidedly international band, as did Boston saxophonists George Garzone and Jerry Bergonzi, both of whom have been coming to the festival for years, each playing with a group of accomplished Danish bandmates.

The Brad Mehldau Trio kicked off the festival at the elegant DR Concert House on Friday night, including several tunes from their new album “Seymour Reads The Constitution” on the Nonesuch Records label. The longstanding piano trio of Mehldau, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard performed as one, coming together on flowing original compositions as well as righteous interpretations of the Sam Rivers tune “Beatrice” and the infamous rock standard “Hey Joe.”

Guitar legend Jeff Beck played the DR on Monday night, drawing a repertoire from five decades of recording. With super drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Rhonda Smith, cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith and singer Jimmy Hall, Beck dazzled the crowd with flawless jazz-fusion instrumentals as well as fret-burning renditions of 20th Century nuggets like “A Day In The Life,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”  Meanwhile, downstairs in the DR at Studio 2, Lee Fields and The Expressions were moving and grooving their hot buttered soul revue for a younger, more energetic audience.

Brazilian artists are in full effect here in Copenhagen. Vocalist Clara Valente was ably supported by Astro Buddha Agogo on an outdoor stage. Singer Seu George is slated to present his eccentric “The Life Aquatic: Tribute To David Bowie” later in the week. Beloved Brazilian composer/musician Hermeto Pascoal will also be bringing his special brand of musical magic to Copenhagen, making a rare European appearance at the Cowbell venue on Thursday night.

Danish saxophonist Ben Koppel honored the late tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon on Saturday, fronting a group of Danish jazz veterans who worked with Dexter when he was an expatriate living in Denmark in the 1960s. The group included Koppel, drum legend Alex Riel, bassist Bo Stief and pianist Ole Kock Hansen playing tunes from Dexter’s 1962 Blue Note album “Go!” Koppel directs the entire Cowbell music series, allowing him to program amazing artists like Hermeto Pascoal, percussionist Marylyn Mazur, and an all-star tribute to Leonard Bernstein. He will also play in the Jazz Clash project with American pianist Uri Caine and trumpeter Ralph Allessi alongside dancers, drummer Riel, and singer Caecilie Norby.

Rock and folk eccentrics found their way onto the program as well, including American musician Howe Gelb of Giant Sand who spent some time living in Denmark and is always welcomed upon his return. English folk-experimentalist Mike Cooper has been making records since the 1960s, and he brought his unusual one-man multimedia show to the Loco Nights series at the Christahvens Beboerhus culture center. British MOBO award winners Sons Of Kemet are performing on Tuesday evening, blending their unique jazz esthetic with elements of rock, African and Caribbean folk forms.

Some of the more notable Danish talent appearing would have to include jazz guitarist Jakob Bro, who will be performing tracks from his latest ECM album “Returning” with trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen and American bassist Thomas Morgan. Also recommended is Hess/AC/Hess featuring pianist Nikolaj Hess, his brother Mikkel Hess on drums and bass sensation Anders “AC” Christensen. They are hosting a late night jam session every night at the Cava Bar, and perform repeatedly during the festival.

Rather than being concentrated in any one area, the CPH Jazz Festival is spread throughout the Danish city, putting on shows at elegant theaters, concert halls, outdoor stages, cafes, restaurants, museums, parks, seaside venues, hotel bars and a multitude of authentic jazz nightclubs.

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