Listening to Jesper Bodilsen……

Mentioning jazz bassists and Denmark in the same sentence automatically conjures up the spirit of the late Nils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, whose presence dominated the Danish jazz scene for so many years.  Pedersen rose to international prominence with the  Oscar Peterson Trio from around 1973 and also played with the likes of Count Basie, Ben Webster Ella Fitzgerald and so on.  In fact,  NHØP played with just about everyone who was anyone from the mainstream of jazz in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  He died in 2005 at the age of 58.

NHØP’s legacy inevitably casts a lengthy shadow across the whole Danish jazz scene to this day.  He has  also certainly been a major influence on the Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson, who has played with Keith Jarrett and Peter Erskine (to name but two) with much distinction over the years.  Now Jesper Bodilsen has emerged as the first Danish bassist of genuine stature since NHØP and he looks like being a worthy successor.

Jesper Bodilsen

Now 40, Bodilsen has already built up an impressive CV, playing with people of the calibre of Lee Konitz, Enrico Rava and Dino Saluzzi, but has really been catapaulted into far greater prominence thanks to his work with the Italian pianist Stefano Bollani and fellow Dane and drummer Morten Lund.  This trio have now released 3 albums, the most recent being last year’s ‘Stone in the water’ (under Bollani’s name) for ECM.  Across these three albums – the others are 2003’s ‘Mi ritorno in mente’ (under Bodilsen’s name) and 2004’s ‘Gleda’ (a collective release) – Bodilsen demonstrates that he has inherited much of the warmth that characterised NHØP’s playing whilst inclining towards a slightly less ‘mainstream’ approach – akin to Dave Holland in some respects.

‘Stone in the water’ got excellent reviews, but most reviewers cast the spotlight on Bollani as one of the front-runners in the exciting renaissance in Italian jazz currently under way.  For me, though, the playing of Bodilsen was key to transforming what could have been seen as yet another piano trio album into something a little bit special.  His bass has a marvellously earthy sound – almost ‘woody’ – and this quality is demonstrated even more vividly in his latest release, ‘Short stories for dreamers’ (2009), which like ‘Mi ritorno in mente’  and  ‘Gleda’ appears on the  Stunt label.

Firstly, it should be said that ‘SSFD’ is a beautifully dressed CD, featuring as it does the stunning photography of Tove Kurtzweil, which in many ways harks back to the glory days of ECM before they entered into their current and tedious  ‘murky’ period.  His images are beautiful and haunting in equal measure.

The personnel on ‘SSFD’ is unusual, inasmuch as there is no drummer.  Instead, the rhythmic pulse is sustained by Bodilsen, Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius and Finnish vibraphonist Severi Pyysalo (who also contributes melodica to the album’s closing track).  Also present is the Swedish trumpeter and flugelhorn player Peter Asplund, whose playing echoes the warmth of Bodilsen’s tone throughout.  Wakenius, who has played with anyone who’s anyone in his native Sweden, and has also played alongside Pat Metheny at a recent ‘Jazz Baltica’ festival, features solely on acoustic guitar here and there are some inevitable Metheny-esque passages, particularly on the terrific ‘Marie’. Of course, for Bodilsen itself, this album represents a liberation from the conventions of the piano/bass/drums format and his playing blossoms as a result.

‘SSFD‘ comes across as a very egalitarian project with Bodilsen taking only his fair share of the spotlight and with no particular player dominating proceedings.  The overall effect is a mesh of sound, often elegaic or melancholy but always shifting, like sunlight on water.  Having previously mentioned ECM, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they were to pick up this band as the music seems a perfect ‘fit’ for the label.  In fact, at times, the mood of this album  reminded me of  Eberhard Weber’s ‘Fluid Rustle’, which is no bad thing, frankly.

Standout tracks would be the aforementioned ‘Marie’, the Brazilian-tinged ‘Caetano’ (presumably a ‘hommage’ to Caetano Veloso), ‘Barcelona’, ‘Pigen der fløj’ and the closing ‘A New Day’ – though to be honest, there really isn’t any filler.  Whilst I was aware of Ulf Wakenius, Asplund and Pyysalo are new to me and both perform impressively here.  I look forward to more recordings and, hopefully, a UK tour at some point.

Just occasionally, you put on a CD which exceeds all and any expectations you may have had beforehand and ‘SSFD’ is definitely one of those CD’s.   It’s a pleasure to be able to recommend it unhesitatingly to anyone who has any interest in contemporary jazz.  It’s a treat to listen to and will doubtless be in residence in my CD player and on my iPod for some time to come.

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