Jazz on its metal

Report by Mark Gilbert

Torben Ulrich and Søren KjærgaardThe fascinating and too often overlooked link between jazz and heavy metal has come into focus this year. It's long been apparent that if played properly both require great technique, but recent and forthcoming events bring more connections to light.

Tommy Smith's hard-hitting 2011 album Karma (see review) was inspired by metal (though it's full of jazz harmony and improvisation) and in July, Jazz Times published an in-depth piece on the topic. This month Jamie Cullum highlights the affinities between jazz and metal on his BBC Radio 2 jazz show.

Cullum's 20 September show features an interview with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, who is a jazz fan and whose father Torben played New Orleans jazz clarinet on the Danish scene in Copenhagen in the 50s, connecting with Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon. Gordon was Lars's godfather.

Jamie told newsonnews.net as they reported R2's autumn music schedule: "Long before I was into jazz I was a fan of heavy metal music. Metallica are one band that really did it for me in my early days. I've always been interested in the technical mastery it took to play both jazz and heavy metal. When I discovered Lars Ulrich, one of the founder members of Metallica, is into his jazz I had to get him onto my Radio 2 show."

Metal, and heavy rock in general, are often dismissed by jazz critics as being insensitive. But the loud and aggressive face of the music perhaps occasions a prejudiced view. Metal in fact has a wide dynamic range and often subtle rhythm complexity and to play and compose with such finesse demands sensitivity to all musical elements as well as top-level instrumental skill - the same qualities that have characterised jazz down the ages.

A recent issue on the Danish label Ilk, Alphabet, Peaceful, Diminished: 29 Proposals from the Towers of Babble, also highlights the connection, featuring the now 80-something Torben Ulrich with talented young Danish jazz pianist and composer Søren Kjærgaard (pictured above).

Does it all bode a rehabilitation of the best of jazz fusion, where jazz's harmonic intelligence is married to modern technology and rock energy, attitude and tonality to create a still new, underrated, yet often dismissed jazz style?

The Ulrich story throws up a further link, between jazz and tennis. Both Ulrichs were high-level tennis players, as was Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren, who recently directed Ystad's successful second jazz festival, reported here.

The whole bunch are Scandinavian too, providing an interesting foil to the prevailing idea that modern European jazz is defined by the cool, introspective ECM model.


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