Denmark’s Big Trumpet Man

DANISH JAZZ TREASURE:

PALLE MIKKELBORG

BY Eric K. Williams

Palle Mikkelborg is one of Europe’s greatest of Jazz trumpeters yet, across the Atlantic he is mostly known among the Jazz audience of musicians and enthusiasts. To date, he has never performed or toured in the United States but, has toured in countries as far away as Australia. The reasons for that are unknown. One can only speculate as to why that is.

He rarely gives interviews. While not hostile to the media, he has been described as painfully shy but, a deeply prideful man. Like the late Swedish Jazz pianist, Jan Johanssen, Mikkelborg brings a definitive Danish sound to his works. His voice and range are astounding, hitting both high and low registers with ease…. whether he plays the trumpet or the flugelhorn.

His latest work has slowly crossed the Atlantic and, has found a place in scores of Jazz specialty shops on the East Coast. That work is a two CD set called, TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN. The CD, released in late 2005, is a kind of greatest hits collection, that represents just part of the full range of Palle Mikkelborg’s work.

In the United States he is known mostly as the composer and producer of the Grammy Award winning Double LP called AURA. It was listed as a Miles Davis recording but, in all due respect to the late Jazz great, all compositions were written by Mikkelborg. It was part of the Sonning Award ceremony for Miles Davis in late 1984 where, Mikkelborg had assembled an impressive cast of Jazz musicians throughout Scandinavia and, the rest of Europe. In short, it was a who’s-who in the European Jazz world. Davis was the recipient of the prestigious Sonning Award which, up until then, had been issued exclusively to musicians in the Classical genre.

AURA, was held from release by Columbia/CBS record officials in the United States until mid-1989, in spite of it falling in the hands of their Danish branch of CBS for much of the second half of the decade. Davis was reportedly angered by this corporate manuever and, it was one of the reasons he had left Columbia Records, after a nearly 40 year relationship that produced some of the greatest American music in the second half of the 20th century. It was a bitter parting with the record label. AURA was released by Columbia Records, which was then taken over by the SONY corporation, four years after he had jumped to the label’s biggest competitor, WARNER BROTHERS.

What made the suite significant was that Mikkelborg created several themes related to the composer’s perception of Miles’ field of musical colors–his AURA, so to speak–and Miles performed it with a Danish studio orchestra in Copenhagen. Clearly influenced by Miles’ collaborations with Gil Evans, AURA reflects Mikkelborg’s  profound influence on European schools of jazz, and it showcases some of Miles most searching, and exploratory solos of the 1980’s.

Both Davis and Mikkelborg continued recording and performing. Miles Davis died in September of 1991 but, an important connection between two music producing nations and, two Jazz giants, has not been ignored. It was a significant meeting and collaboration not seen since Davis had worked with the late Gil Evans which produced the noted orchestral works of Porgy and Bess, Sketches of Spain, Quiet Nights and Miles Ahead.

On TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN, listeners will get a peek at Mikkelborg’s orchestral works and collaboration with smaller combinations. PRINCE OF PEACE, from the CD ANYTHING BUT GREY, opens CD # 1. It is a beautiful and haunting work that features the Harpist, Helen Davies. She is both Mikkelborg’s significant other and, also, musical collaborator.

While most of the 26 tracks are works of Mikkelborg, here one can experience his range of interpretation in covers of songs like John Lennon’s IMAGINE, Kurt Weill’s SPEAK LOW, and Billy Strayhorn’s LOTUS BLOSSOM. The three tracks listed above were all recorded after the AURA sessions with Miles Davis but, one track from that notable recording, is included. BLUE from that album appears towards the end of CD one, and it features, among others Davis, saxophonist Flemming Madsen; percussionist, Marilyn Mazur; Bass player, Bo Stief; and Jazz guitarist, John Mc Laughlin. 19 musicians, including Mikkelborg, are featured on that track.

The second CD of this collection is a look back. Titled ENTRANCE, part two is a series of LIVE recordings from the legendary, but now closed, Montmartre Jazz nightclub in Copenhagen. Ten tracks are included here and feature noted musicans on the Danish Jazz scene such as, Bo Stief, Jesper Nehammer, Thomas Clausen, Bjarne Roupe, Lennart Gruvstedt and Ethan Weisgard. The recordings were made in late December of 1982. Now that Copenhagen’s premiere Jazz venue is no more, this collection of recordings becomes even more significant in the overall record of Denmark’s contribution to Jazz music.

Overall, the collection of recordings is a peek into the voice and view of an important figure on the world stage of Jazz. Mikkelborg is a musical giant in Denmark. From his work with the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir (Kobenhavns Drengekor,) to being a featured player on works like ANCHOR, with the Swedish Jazz guitarist, Lasse Englund, Mikkelborg is one of the greatest Jazz composers most American lovers of Jazz have never heard of. TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN is one work that belongs among the collection of any serious lover of Jazz, no matter the country one happens to call home.

The collection is dedicated to another Danish Jazz giant, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. The bassist, who passed on recently, has left an equally voluminous hole on the Danish Jazz scene, as the death of Miles Davis has left on the American scene.

The 2-CD set, along with other works by Palle Mikkelborg, can be found and purchased by visiting SONY BMG Denmark, by going to the Web Site on the Internet listed below if, the CD is not available in your local specialty shop. That address is:

http://www.sonybmg.dk/

In addition to Miles Davis, Mikkelborg also collaborated with saxophonist Dexter Gordon on a recording re-issued titled, MORE THAN YOU KNOW. It can be found on the Internet at:

http://www.jazzloft.com/index.php

The aforementioned CD, ANCHOR by Lasse Englund is a beautiful but moody, collection of songs can also be found on the Internet at:

http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,,82235,00.html