Alex Riel, Bo Stief, Carsten Dahl: Our Songs

Contemplative Danish trio reduces the herculean Giant Steps to an easy tempo and caresses a 700-year-old Nordic melody

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These three long-esteemed figures of contemporary Danish jazz have come up with an absolute cracker of an album. The sleeve tells us that Dahl’s reflectively wrought composition The Poet is dedicated to Riel – still a major force at the drum kit at 81 years – but a poetic sensibility is evident throughout Our Songs.

Lyricism is the order of the day: a lyricism infused with the most alert intelligence – of repertoire, programming and interpretation alike, of sensibility and touch, individual identity and three-way interaction.

Hear, for example, the relaxed flow of the opening and relatively brief treatment of Keith Jarrett’s My Song, where the lilting theme works well without any undue milking of its melody and with no summarising reprise to finish but rather a fade-out. Compare the driving, sprightly joys of Høstdansen with the limpid depths traversed in a wondrous reading of Moon River – or marvel at the radical treatment of Giant Steps, the Coltrane classic taken here at a radically reduced and most engaging tempo. And enjoy the irony of the fact that the national treasure of a composer who was explicit in his disdain for jazz, the Dane Carl Nielsen (1865-1931), wrote what would in time become a Danish jazz standard, given an affecting reading here: Den Milde Dag Er Lyse Og Lang.

Relish the spacious resonance of Stief’s pizzicato introduction to the elegantly reshaped and swinging Stella By Starlight, where Riel’s brushwork shines, as well as the shifts from such harmonic and rhythmic sophistication to the primal poetic sensitivity to matters of atmos, or mood, which mark the concluding Drømte Mig En Drøm. Composed over 700 years ago – and said by sleeve-note writer Kjeld Frandsen to be the oldest known Nordic melody to be written down – its spacious and gently rocking piano figures elicit some outstanding, gliding and quivering arco figures and overtone colouring from Stief.

In his sleeve-note for Danish saxophonist Thomas Agergaard’s Testing 1-2-3-4 from 1998 – an excellent quartet date recently reissued by April Records, on which Dahl appears – Birger Thørgesen says of the pianist: “He knows his jazz history and can play it all with his impressive handiwork, but he is best when he unfolds it from his inner self.” It is exactly such a (three-way) “unfolding” which so distinguishes this consummate release.

Discography
My Song; Høstdansen; Moon River; Den Milde Dag Er Lyse Og Lang; The Poet; Vem Kan Segla Förutan Vind; My Funny Valentine; Stella By Starlight; Giant Steps; Jeg Vet En Deilig Rosa; Drømte Mig En Drøm (42.55)
Riel (d); Stief (b); Dahl (p). Copenhagen, 8-9 June 2021.
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