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Hit Couleurs JAZZ

In jazz, Denmark is best known for its bassists, and since the late Nils Henning Ørsted Petersen, each generation has produced an excellent practitioner of the “grandmother”, such as Jesper Bodilsen or Thomas Fonnesbaek.

But that’s forgetting that the small Scandinavian country – like its larger neighbors Sweden and Norway – is also a nest of first-rate drummers whose forefather is Alex Riel.

This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that Copenhagen – thanks to its historic jazz club, the Jazzhus Montmartre – was an almost obligatory stopover for touring American musicians, some of whom settled in the Danish capital for some time, giving local drummers the opportunity to accompany a host of leading soloists and thus become familiar with playing styles practiced across the Atlantic.

It’s fair to say that in Europe, Copenhagen was, alongside Paris, the main place where this exchange could take place. I would add that another element seems to have played a role in the emergence of excellent drummers in Denmark: the move to Copenhagen of Ed Thigpen, who lived there for the last decades of his life and died there in 2010.

The former accompanist of Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald was thus able to mentor young Danish drummers such as Kresten Osgood and Stefan Pasborg, who was also a pupil of Alex Riel. This brings us full circle to this octogenarian drummer who, having developed his playing style before Ed Thigpen’s arrival, was not influenced by his American elder.

In a fitting return, after having accompanied a number of American musicians in Copenhagen, Alex Riel had the opportunity to record twice in New York, in 1997 and 1999, as leader of two combos under the aegis of brothers Niels Lan and Chris Minh Doky, who produced the first record and the second as well as participating as instrumentalists.

The reissue of these recordings on a double CD is an opportunity to (re)discover previously unreleased groups, featuring tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, who also composed much of the repertoire.

This is one of the most convincing recordings of a musician who can be heard in many contexts as both sideman and leader. It’s also a rare opportunity to hear him on four tracks alongside his colleague Michael Brecker.

This duo of tenors is one of the highlights of these two CDs, to which musicians of the level of Mike Stern, Kenny Werner and Eddie Gomez make a particularly stimulating contribution, committing themselves far beyond what might be expected of studio sharks.

The only standard in this repertoire “I Fall in Love too Easily” and the only theme to be performed as a trio with Kenny Werner and Chris Minh Doky is a splendid example of it. These are two remarkable recordings in which Alex Riel asserts his dimension as a leader, while providing his two groups with the tonic and subtle support of a drumming style that places him among the leading European drummers. This is confirmed by a remarkably dense solo of almost 4 minutes, in which Riel uses his snare drum and toms rather than cymbals, in the old-fashioned way.

Line up :

Alex Riel: drums

Jerry Bergonzi: tenor sax

Michael Brecker: tenor sax

Mike Stern: guitar

Kenny Werner: piano

Niels Lan Doky: piano

Eddie Gomez: double bass

Chris Minh Doky: double bass

In New York was first published in 1997 by Sundance Records and then by Stunt Records in 2023.

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