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Niclas Bardeleben

N.O. In My Heart, Cph In My Blood

by Ian Mann

September 09, 2020


A fresh perspective on some classic jazz material, much of it nearly a century old, emphasising the timelessness of the music, while simultaneously breathing fresh life into it.

Niclas Bardeleben

“N.O. In My Heart, Cph In My Blood”

(Gateway Music)

Niclas Bardeleben – drums, Jan Harbeck – tenor sax, Jesper Lovdal – clarinet, baritone sax,
Henrik Bolberg, trumpet, flugelhorn, Vincent Nilsson – trombone, Lasse Morck

This vinyl only release features a sextet led by the Danish drummer and bandleader Niclas Bardeleben.

I first became aware of Bardeleben’s playing via the album “River of Time”,  the recent trio release by Danish pianist Nils Lan Doky. Review here;

Despite having some reservations about the album as a whole I thoroughly enjoyed Bardeleben’s contribution, which revealed him to be an inventive and imaginative performer with a fine eye for percussive detail. I’m grateful to Niclas for subsequently getting in touch and forwarding me this vinyl album featuring the work of his own sextet.

Born in 1990 Bardeleben initially studied classical percussion and dance but became a professional jazz musician in his teens. At one time he was the house drummer Jazzhus Montmarte, Copenhagen’s most famous jazz venue. He also enjoyed a similar role at The Standard Jazz Club. In his capacity as a house drummer Bardeleben has performed with a host of visiting stars from both Europe and the US, among them saxophonist David Sanborn, violinist Didier Lockwood, pianist Joey Alexander, UK born trumpeter Gerard Presencer and vocalists Roberta Gambrini and Debbie Sledge, the latter of Sister Sledge fame.

Bardeleben has been a member of the Nils Lan Doky Trio since 2011 and has recorded frequently with the pianist. He has also recorded with Didier Lockwood and Debbie Sledge and with a number of other Danish musicians.

As a solo artist Bardeleben leads his own piano-less quintet, featuring a three horn front line. He also leads the New Orleans inspired No Bad News, a quartet playing funk, r’n’b, soul and blues.

Bardeleben has a long standing love of all aspects of New Orleans music, including traditional jazz. In 2016 as part of a project co-led by saxophonist Johan Bylling Lang he recorded the album “A Little New Orleans Never Hurt Anybody”, which featured the Danish duo alongside some of the best young musicians from New Orleans, among them singer Sasha Masakowski. The album featured a mix of original material and arrangements of New Orleans classics.

Recorded with the help of successful Kickstarter campaign “N.O. In My Heart, Cph In My Blood” explores this aspect of New Orleans music via set of Bardeleben arrangements of seven New Orleans jazz classics in a style that the drummer describes as “inspired by the timbre of Copenhagen”.

His liner notes, reproduced below, give a more detailed account of the inspirations behind the project;

The first time I heard the sound of a New Orleans style brass band, I fell in love. First I fell in love with the chaotic wall of sound that characterises such a band, which features several horns, drummers and percussionists; the bluesy riffs, the virtuoso solos, the almost devout yet frivolous spirit that surrounds all that. And then there’s the beat – Oh My God that greasy, sloppy, funky, happy 2nd line beat!! Secondly I started learning from which kind of culture this cornucopia of musical deliciousness had sprung. Once again - I fell in love! In love with Mardi Gras Indians, with red beans and rice, with myths about voodoo queens and bayou fables. In short, I had fallen in love with a culture, a people and a kind of music, that would become my musical pivot-point for years to come. And when it finally was time for me to create an album of my own, it was only natural that it would pay tribute to the city that had sieged such a big part of my heart.

When I started writing the arrangements for the album it became clear that my writing wasn’t informed only by the crescent city. My Copenhagen roots were undeniable. The music I had listened to growing up; Danish movie scores, local bands, arrangers and drum heroes. Even the sound of my dad’s old band, who’s rehearsals I sometimes got to experience on Thursday nights as a toddler, had snuck into some of the arrangements. And not least the Nordic tristese, which seems to be evident in most music that has it’s roots in the most northern part of the northern hemisphere. The sound of my home town Copenhagen is obviously flowing in my veins, and thus the name of the album had to be ‘N.O. in my Heart - Cph in my Blood’”.

As Bardeleben explains the arrangements, even those written by a drummer, are very different to those normally associated with New Orleans jazz. Bardeleben approaches these tunes from a European perspective and his treatment of them is intelligent, imaginative and sophisticated, while still remaining true to the original New Orleans spirit.

The drummer / arranger doesn’t seek to dominate the ensemble. Opener “Dear Old Southland” commences with a solemn horn chorale with its roots in the Black church. Bardeleben then establishes a contemporary groove that frames the more obviously New Orleans flavoured solos of his bandmates, notably Harbeck on tenor, who probes surprisingly deeply, and the excellent Morck on double bass, a vital and stabilising presence throughout but also a highly accomplished soloist. The four horns work effectively as a unit on an arrangement that also includes quotes from other tunes, such as “Summertime”. There’s even a coda that blends New Orleans style horns with the leader’s free jazz influenced drumming.

There’s an irresistible joyousness about an arrangement of “Basin Street Blues” that sees effective use being made of the low register timbres of baritone sax, trombone and double bass. Solos come from Bolberg on high register trumpet and Nilsson on growling, vocalised trombone.  There are also a series of infectious exchanges involving the horns with the bass and drums.

“Bechet’s Creole Blues”, written of course by the great Sidney Bechet, is a feature for Morck on bowed double bass, his grainy timbres combining effectively with the brassy interjections of the horns. There’s an authentically bluesy feel about the piece as a whole with further solos coming from Lovdal on clarinet, who also engages in a series of thrilling exchanges with the rest of the band. Nilsson subsequently takes over on suitably blues drenched trombone, his solo also culminating in an exchange of ideas with his colleagues.

Side two (even now it still seems strange to be saying that) commences with “Someday You’ll Be Sorry”, written by Louis Armstrong. There’s a suitably melancholy quality about an arrangement that features the horn players at their most lyrical, at first collectively, but subsequently individually. Bolberg is the first to solo, followed by Harbeck on tenor and Morck on double bass. Bardeleben’s own contribution is sympathetic and economical, moving between sticks and brushes as appropriate.

Bardeleben and Morck combine to introduce “Jeepers Creepers” which increases the energy levels with a perky, staccato arrangement that requires great precision from the members of the ensemble. The first ‘solo’ is an extended dialogue between Morck’s bass and the leader’s brushed drums. Lovdal then takes over, exhibiting great agility on baritone, and he’s followed by Bolberg on fluent, brassy trumpet.

Drums and bass also introduce Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans”, again establishing a contemporary groove that provides the impetus for the ‘old school’ growling and other vocalised sounds of Nilsson’s trombone. Bolberg then adopts a brighter, breezier sound on trumpet.

Finally Bardeleben’s drums usher in the closing “Who Took The Happiness Out?”, a high energy finale featuring some dazzling ensemble playing and solos from Lovdal on earthy baritone and Harbeck on similarly hard edged tenor, the two subsequently entering into a thrilling sax duel, fuelled by Bardeleben busy and dynamic drumming. This is followed by a feature for the leader, again in conjunction with Morck’s supportive bass, and finally a rousing collective concluding salvo.

Given my general aversion to most trad jazz I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this recording. Bardeleben’s intelligent, carefully crafted arrangements may bring a European perspective to the music but they also utilise contemporary rhythms and grooves plus aspects of other American jazz genres such as bebop.

It all serves to offer a fresh perspective on some classic jazz material, much of it nearly a century old, emphasising the timelessness of the music, while simultaneously breathing fresh life into it.
The standard of the playing is excellent throughout, both individually and collectively, with all the horn players impressing as soloists in their various ways, while Morck and Bardeleben distinguish themselves as a particularly flexible and intelligent rhythmic partnership.

“N.O. In My Heart, Cph In My Blood” proves to be a particularly apposite title as Bardeleben puts his own stamp on a music that he quite clearly loves.

I’ve reviewed a number of albums recently which have found modern day musicians bringing something new to often very old music, among them recent recordings by Coltrane Dedication and Magpie Trio. Like those two acts Bardeleben approaches his chosen material with a spirit of love and adventure, not content to just reproduce or to pay ‘tribute’ to but to do something more, something relevant to today’s audiences. Bardeleben’s homage to the ‘Crescent City’, by way of Copenhagen, is therefore unreservedly recommended.

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