Tue March 12, 2024

Ernie Watts / Niels Lan Doky / Darryl Jones / Harvey Mason 'Modern Standards' (USA/DK)

Ernie Watts: tenor, soprano saxophone
Niels Lan Doky: piano
Darryl Jones: bass
Harvey Mason: drums

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In the Fall of 2022 a spectacular supergroup of musicians came together for a European tour based on the idea of renewing and updating the jazz standard repertoire. Saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianist Niels Lan Doky, bassist Darryl Jones and drummer Harvey Mason took on the challenge of delivering convincing jazz takes on songs by contemporary pop icons such as Nirvana, Seal, Soungarden and Patti Smith and blended them seamlessly with a few of their own originals as well as a classic by Miles Davis, proving the viability of the concept.

While the creative task is complex, the concept is simple: Interpreting broadly known songs through the lens of jazz. But why? The repertoire commonly referred to as “Jazz Standards” consists mainly of pop songs from the 1930s and 1940s reworked by jazz musicians of that time, to offer the general public a radically different perspective on widely popular songs. But the jazz renditions eventually outlived the original versions and jazz musicians continued to play and record these same songs over and over and eventually began creating renditions of each other’s renditions, instead of exploring and embracing brand new songs. Ultimately everyone forgot about the original versions and decades later these 80+ year old pop songs became permanently identified as the classic repertoire of jazz.

Niels Lan Doky has always had a desire to revive and modernize this old tradition. Throughout his vast discography he has experimented extensively with instrumental modern jazz interpretations of contemporary pop songs - and arguably more so than any other jazz artist since the original jazz standards were conceived more than 8 decades ago. This work of his has greatly intensified since 2020 when he took up residency at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark to produce regular concert series there exclusively devoted to his “jazz/takes” or “modern standards” as he and his fellow musicians like to call them, covering songs from a seemining unlimited spectrum of genres of contemporary popular music, ranging from 1960s Psychedelic Rock, to 1970s Soul, Disco, Funk and New York Post Punk, 1980s UK New Wave, 1990s Hip Hop, Britpop and Seattle Grunge, French Electronic, Mainstream pop hits of the 2010s and 2020s and much more - culminating in 2022 with two international tours, and a new one to come in 2023, spearheaded by this repertoire performed by supergroup lineups featuring some of the greatest and most acclaimed jazz musicians of all time, such as Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, Billy Cobham, Darryl Jones and Harvey Mason, among others. Not only has this music yielded great success, it is now also starting to reach a critical mass that could potentially turn it into the start of a new movement in jazz.

This album marks the first official release of a recording of this material. It was recorded live on 11.11.22 at the Leverkusener Jazztage in Germany, one of Europe’s most prominent jazz festivals, founded over 40 years ago. The itinerary of the group’s European Fall tour 2022 included 14 stops, in respectively Lund (Sweden), Pori (Finland), Milano (Italy), Budapest (Hungary), Humlebæk (Denmark), Ingolstadt (Germany), Rorschach (Switzerland), Zagreb (Croatia), Mantova (Italy), Madrid (Spain), Palma de Mallorca (Spain), Leverkusen (Germany), Berlin (Germany) and Klampenborg (Denmark). As Bill recalls, “2022 was the first year since the pandemic where bands really started to tour internationally again. It was amazing to finally be out there on the road again, doing what we love doing, creating and sharing music”. Following a few days of rehearsal at Niels’ home in Elsinore, Denmark, the tour premiere took place on October 27th just across the Oresund strait from Copenhagen, in the in the Southern Swedish city of Lund, famous for its Lund University - one of Scandinavia's oldest and largest institutions for education and research, but in the jazz world also known as the hometown of Monica Getz Silfverschöld, the former wife of Stan Getz and a behind-the-scenes driving force during the most prolific period of the late saxophone icon’s career. This initial concert was a huge success with many memorable moments, mostly spontaneous as is often the case in jazz, and according to Niels “We realized that we can do this, this is going to work”. The next day, the band headed to the Finnish town of Pori, home to Pori Jazz, one of one of the oldest and best known yearly jazz festivals in Europe, originally established in 1966. The band members have all been regulars at this festival for decades, so they knew that although this concert took place outside of the festival period, the audience and local media there are accustomed to the highest standards in jazz so this was going to be an important gig. But « we did it again! The audience and the press loved it and we got an incredible review » says Darryl « so we were ready to take on Milan big time the next day, and the rest of our European tour for that matter ». There were apparently highlights everywhere. « Our dear friend in Budapest Attila Kleb took the great photos that you see on the album cover, in the gap between a great goulash dinner and that night’s concert» says Bill. Harvey was particularly impressed by the food in Madrid and Mantova and the concert in the latter city took place in a very legendary venue. « Our jaws dropped when we entered Teatro Bibiena. So beautiful. We later found out that it opened in December 1769 and that thirteen-year-old Mozart played an incredible concert here a few weeks later» . In fact his father, Leopold Mozart, later wrote about the theater: "In all my life, I have never seen anything more beautiful of its kind". The furthest south the band made it was to Palma de Mallorca, a very popular vacation destination for Northern Europeans. « It rained the whole time we were there», says Niels, “ but the audience was wonderful and I had a chance to do a masterclass there too, and I had a really interesting and rewarding encounter with the students at the local conservatory”. Darryl, continues, “Actually the audiences were great everywhere not least in Zagreb, Madrid, Berlin, Klampenborg and Rorschach and we were really happy to play at great festivals and venues that some of us had enjoyed playing before like the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark and the Leverkusen and Ingoldstadt festivals in Germany”. Harvey adds, “We actually double-billed with my old friend Lee Ritenour in Ingoldstadt, that was really great to see him again”. The tour ended on November 14th at Sølyst, in Klampenborg, Denmark and the next day the band members were on their way home. Niels sums up “The creative chemistry as well as the camaraderie in this band was fantastic and we had the best time and are very happy to document it with the release of a double LP of an entire live concert from the tour, which we sincerely hope you will enjoy”.