by Ian Mann
November 24, 2021
The sextet packed plenty of punch with a powerful rhythm section fuelling the fluent and inventive soloing of the three horn front line. Windfeld exhibits a skilful command of dynamics as a composer.
Kathrine Windfeld Sextet, Livestream from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, Soho, London, 15/11/2021 (Part of EFG London Jazz Festival)
Kathrine Windfeld – piano, Marek Konarski – tenor sax, Hannes Bennich – alto & soprano saxes, Tomasz Dabrowski – trumpet, Johannes Vaht – double bass, Henrik Holst – drums
Having extensively covered ten editions of the EFG London Jazz Festival from 2010 to 2019 inclusive, plus the all digital event in 2020, it was a source of great disappointment that due to Covid related reasons my wife and I were unable to attend the 2021 Festival in person.
During our previous visits accommodation has very kindly been provided by my brother in law and his partner. This year they were understandably reticent about hosting us. Having exercised caution themselves for the last eighteen months or so they were justifiably reluctant to take in a couple of guests who would be rushing around all over the city on the ‘Tube’ and visiting multiple crowded music venues. We fully understand and respect their decision. With ten nights of hotel bills beyond our modest budget we reluctantly had to stay home this year.
Nevertheless I was still very much at the Festival ‘in spirit’ and for the second year running will be taking a look at some of the online content.
This performance by the Danish pianist and composer Kathrine Windfeld and her sextet took place in front of a live audience at Ronnie Scott’s on 15th November 2021 and had I been able to visit the Festival this was one of the events that I would have requested to attend. Fortunately online coverage of the show is still available via the Festival website at; https://efglondonjazzfestival.org.uk/events/kathrine-windfeld
I first encountered Windfeld’s music in 2019 when I favourably reviewed the album “Latency”, recorded by her Big Band, a fifteen piece international ensemble featuring musicians from countries with shores on the Baltic Sea, This followed a previous Big Band release “Aircraft” (2015). My review of “Latency” can be found here;
Born in 1984 Windfeld studied at the Department of Musicology in Copenhagen and at the Swedish jazz school Fridhems Folkhogskola. She was part of the progressive jazz quintet Gespenst before establishing her own sextet in 2011.
She subsequently studied at the Malmo Music Academy in Sweden where she established a quartet and began to write for big bands. In 2014 she moved back to Copenhagen where she set up the Kathrine Windfeld Big Band and in 2015 she recorded her award winning début big band album “Aircraft”.
The famous Danish pianist Niels Lan Doky offered the KWBB a residency at his Copenhagen jazz club and the band continued to hone their sound while playing with illustrious visiting guest musicians such as guitarists Mike Stern and Gilad Hekselman, saxophonist Seamus Blake and the UK’s own Gerard Presencer (trumpet).
Following the success of “Aircraft” and “Latency” Windfeld released her third big band album, “Orca”, in 2020. Its success led to her winning of the 2020 Letter One Rising Jazz Star Award.
More recently she has collaborated with the Swedish ensemble the Bohuslan Big Band, with whom she released the album “Determination” in October 2021.
In addition to her Big Band and sextet projects Windfeld also co-leads a quartet with saxophonist Jesper Lovdal.
The current edition of the sextet is a truly international affair featuring two Danes, Windfeld and drummer Henrik Holst, two Swedes, bassist Johannes Vaht and alto / soprano saxophonist Hannes Bennich, and two Poles, trumpeter Tomasz Dabrowski and tenor saxophonist Marek Konarski. Polish musicians frequently come to Copenhagen to study at the city’s famous Rhythmic Music Conservatoire (where Django Bates once taught) and quickly become assimilated into the Danish jazz scene.
The sextet’s performance at Ronnie’s was an early evening show (6.30 pm) with the Israeli born, New York based trumpeter and composer Itamar Borochov scheduled to appear with his quartet later on, another show I would normally have attended.
But as we learned last year online is the next best thing and I thoroughly enjoyed this performance from Windfeld and her sextet which featured an all original programme of Windfeld compositions, many of them scaled down arrangements of her big band pieces.
This may have been a smaller line up but the sextet still packed plenty of punch as Windfeld teamed up with the rhythm section from her Big Band, bassist Johannes Vaht and drummer Henrik Holst. The leader is also a highly rhythmic player with a strong left hand and when she joined Vaht and Holst in the ‘engine room’ this powerful combination really challenged the horns, fuelling their fluent and inventive soloing and pushing them to new heights.
Introduced by the leader at the piano set opener “Jupiter” featured an impressively big sound on the ensemble passages with Konarski, Dabrowski and Bennich, here on soprano, sounding like a ‘mini big band’. Windfeld exhibits a skilful command of dynamics as a composer and the performance included incisive solo statements from Bennich and Dabrowski plus a drum feature from Holst.
A passage of unaccompanied piano ushered in “Harvest”, a piece that saw Bennich moving to alto saxophone. Windfeld took the first orthodox solo, introducing an element of playful, wilful dissonance into her playing. This was followed by an expansive trumpet solo from the impressive Dabrowski.
Following the rhythmic pyrotechnics and fiery soloing of the first two numbers the ballad “December Energy” revealed a gentler side of the band. Described by its composer as “an ode to dark Scandinavian nights and winters” the piece was a showcase for the excellent Bennich who sketched the delightful melody on soprano sax before subtly probing more deeply, his melody lines mirrored by piano and bass and with the other two horns adding colour and texture.
Remarkably the set contained the title tracks of Windfeld’s first three big band albums. The first of these to be heard was “Latency” which distilled the power of the Big Band into the sextet format with some powerful, swinging ensemble passages from the tenor / soprano / trumpet front line, followed by ebullient solos from Dabrowski on trumpet and Windfeld at the piano.
Next up was “Aircraft”, with Windfeld warning us to “expect a little bit of turbulence”. She wasn’t kidding as we were buffeted, but thrillingly and enjoyably so, by the rhythmic complexities of the piece and by the marathon twists and turns of Bennich’s urgent alto sax soloing.
Windfeld informed the audience that she aimed to create compositions that “leave pictures in your mind”. The ballad “Leaving Portland” sought to evoke both the “joy and the sorrow of leaving”. Again introduced by a passage of unaccompanied piano this performance featured subtle horn voicings, rich in terms of both colour and texture. Meanwhile the solos of both Konarski on tenor and Windfeld at the piano were notable for their pensive lyricism.
The last scheduled tune of the set was “Orca”, named for the species of killer whale. This was ushered in by a suitably sinister sounding keyboard led intro, all low end piano and squalling horns. The rumbling dissonance reminded me of the instrumental section of Van Der Graaf Generator’s “Killer”, another tune about a ruthless undersea predator. Out of this a groove eventually emerged, propelled by the muscular bass lines of a grinning Johannes Vaht, a pivotal presence all evening. The horns, with Bennich featuring on alto, first played in unison before fragmenting to exchange phrases, rather in the manner of ‘mini solos’, before coalescing again. Konarski then erupted with a powerful tenor solo, this followed by a quieter, but still threatening trio section featuring Windfeld’s minor key piano chording, the piece closing with a monstrously doomy piano figure.
This had been a dramatic piece and one that clearly struck a chord with the Ronnie’s audience. A vociferous crowd reaction saw MC Paul Pace summoning the sextet back to the stage for an encore. “Wasp” was ushered in by the buzzing of the horns, skilfully approximating the sound of the titular insect. Following this evocative introduction Vaht again established a powerful bass motif cum groove this providing the momentum for the punchy playing of the horns, with Konarski again emerging as the principal soloist; subtle and brooding at first before becoming more strident and powerful as the music gathered momentum, with Windfeld again displaying her command of compositional dynamics.
It may not have been quite the same as actually being there but I thoroughly enjoyed this performance. The sextet may have been going for ten years but as far as I’m aware Windfeld is yet to record in the format, preferring to focus on her Big Band work. This is a pity as I’m sure the sextet would find plenty of interest to say on disc, perhaps a live recording from a club performance such as this would represent a viable future option.
Windfeld has visited the UK before with her Big Band and although I missed out on seeing her both then and now I’m sure she’ll be back. I’d be more than happy to see her performing ‘in the flesh’ in any format.
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