Into To The Open by young Danish saxophonist/flutist Sarah Elgeti brings to fore for the first time a major new voice on the international jazz scene. Long known as an environment hospitable to modern jazz -- with Copenhagen’s Café Montmartre hosting many of the music’s greatest artists for decades and the Danish Radio (DR) Big Band with directors such as Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely, producing some of the most stimulating music in the world – Denmark has nurtured generations of talented native jazz musicians, from bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen to Miles Davis percussionist Marilyn Mazur. With an original voice, both as a player and composer, Elgeti is indeed one of the current Danish -- and world -- jazz scene’s most important modern exponents.
As astutely noted in AllAboutJazz, “The homogeneity of a local scene that welcomed visitors from the outside has given way to a great global community with many genres and scenes. Nowadays, young Danish jazz musicians are tearing down the walls that separated high and low culture, avant-garde and popular music. A keen understanding of tradition blends into a daring exploration of the new.” Such an observation is particularly apropos to the diversity of the music of Sarah Elgeti, which has been shaped by her myriad musical and personal experiences into a bold new sound that is all her own.
Leading a quintet that features fellow saxophonist Marianne Markmann-Eriksen’s alto and baritone - paired with her own tenor and soprano and flute in the ensemble’s front line -- and the versatile rhythm section of guitarist Christian Bluhme Hansen, bassist Jens Kristian Andersen and drummer/percussionist Thomas Præstegaard, Elgeti traverses expansive musical territory on Into The Open. The dozen tracks that comprise the date, all Elgeti originals, include atmospheric impressionism, funky blues, pulsating bossa nova, straight ahead swinging, boppish blowing, romantic ballad playing and avant garde adventurousness, with each song evincing an appealing lyrical melodicism that is characteristic of the leader’s distinctively personal voice.
The date’s opening track Home, displays Elgeti’s rich full toned tenor to full effect as the song’s sole soloist, with only occasional legato underscoring from Markmann-Eriksen’s alto and spare backing from the group’s rhythm section. Reflecting the pastoral beauty of her native land, there is an ethereal elegance to the piece characteristic of what has often been described as the ”Nordic sound”, a cool, melancholic aesthetic associated with ECM artists like Jan Garbarek. Yet, at the same time one hears a sound that is deeply steeped in the American jazz tenor tradition of Coleman Hawkins and Dexter Gordon.
Bossa Among The Trees is an exhilarating excursion that further reveals the compositional skill of Elgeti and her ability to draw a broad orchestral sound from the small ensemble. Building dynamically from the leisurely introduction by guitar and rhythm, Elgeti and Markmann-Eriksen enter playing the attractive melody in unison on tenor and alto respectively, before the leader takes over with a tour de force solo that demonstrates the full breadth of her robust sound and imaginative improvisational mind. Andersen’s bass interlude introduces Hansen’s expansive guitar solo and Præstegaard’s trades with the horns before the full ensemble take things out with a recapitulation of the opening melodic line.
The idyllic Out In The Fields is another brooding atmospheric outing much like the opening Home, with Markmann-Eriksen’s alto adding to the beauty of piece as she both converses with and complements Elgeti’s lyrical lines, the two horns weaving a wonderful tapestry of restrained intensity that is further enhanced by Hansen’s nylon string guitar accompaniment and solo, which contributing nicely to the folkish feel of the pretty melody.
Downstairs, which opens with celebratory voices greeting each other, adds the Fender Rhodes of pianist Ben Besiakov. The funky opening section with Rhodes and guitar getting down over Præstegaard’s back beating sock cymbal, conjuring the atmosphere of seventies house party, seamlessly segues into a straight ahead swing interlude featuring an augmented sax section with Mikkel Uhrenholdt’s alto added for a big band feel. The sounds of swing era saxes and fusion day keyboards join forces in a unified sound that brings together seemingly rival genres.
Elgeti’s solo flute opens Ringe I Vand, (loosely translated as “let it rain”), with Markmann-Eriksen’s alto soon joining in harmony, followed by slow beating drums and finally guitar, with the sound of marimba added to paint the picture of rain. Primarily a vehicle for the leader’s luminescent flute, Elgeti’s fluid lines, underscored by pulsing baritone accents, show her to be an important new voice on the instrument.
But I Wish I Could, is a poignant piece, heartrending in the sense of anguish it depicts. The brooding dirge is nonetheless a shining example of Elgeti’s ability to evince a wide range of intense emotions – from regret to rage -- in her writing, which makes effective use of Hansen’s guitar and Andersen’s bowed bass to create a spacious environment over which the horns converse in sadness.
A similar mood is built upon on Trying To Forget, with wild whinnying dissonant horn lines interjected judiciously to give the piece its own distinctive feel, which is further distinguished by Præstegaard’s martial drum line.
Acapella tenor and baritone introduce Blustering Waves in a rhythmic dialogue that gives way to the expanded ensemble with he alto saxophones of Magnus Poulsen and Mikkel Uhrenholdt added to the frontline and Besiakov’s acoustic piano filling out the rhythm section, which propels the horns on a hard bopping jaunt that recalls the exciting pairing of Dexter Gordon and Leo Parker, with some swinging trading between Uhrenholdt`s and Markmann-Eriksen’s horns and Præstegaard’s drums.
Clouds begins with an earthy bass and guitar introduction before flute and alto go floating airily over the cadenced underpinning of the rhythm section. The tightly knit ensemble playing of Elgeti’s group is displayed wonderfully here with each member’s individual voice molded into a unified sound where the distinction between soloist and background is blurred in favor of a wholly integrated accord.
The tender tribute Angelique, written by Elgeti for her mother, is a classic ballad with the composer’s tenor “singing” lovingly over the rhythm section, enriched by Markmann-Eriksen’s obbligati, with pianist Besiakov’s, who solos movingly, out front over Præstegaard’s brushes.
Night Moves, which opens ominously with saxes overblowing portentously over atmospheric guitar, and resolves in a funky contrapuntal conversation that recalls the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Joseph Jarman-Roscoe Mitchell dialogues, once again reveals the broadness of Elgeti’s musical palette.
The concluding track, a remix of Bossa Among The Trees, utilizes an electronic tabla like rhythm sample, demonstrating Elgeti’s willingness to reach out beyond the jazz milieu to a youthful audience unconcerned by musical categorizations.
With her own fully formed instrumental voice and a distinctively personal compositional style Sarah Elgeti has developed practically hidden from U.S. ears in the relative obscurity of her native Denmark. But a talent as imposing as hers cannot be concealed forever and the release of Into The Open should assure that she will not remain a secret much longer.