Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2011, 12:00am


Proof, for anybody who needs it, that jazz can be enriched by borrowing from other musical traditions will be provided this week by artists from Europe.

The Dag Arnesen Trio, who appear at the Skylark Lounge for two concerts - starting tonight - last played Hong Kong in 2009 at the Fringe Club with a slightly different line-up. Pianist/composer Arnesen and drummer Pal Thowsen remain, but bassist Terje Gewelt, with whom they recorded the Norwegian Song and Norwegian Song 2 albums, has been replaced by Ellen Andrea Wang, who joined in time for 2010's Norwegian Song 3.

Although only 25, as well as teaching jazz and bass Wang has freelanced prolifically, appearing on five albums released in Scandinavia since 2007, and appears to be one of the rising stars of Nordic jazz.

Arnesen has made 11 albums as a leader, but hit a particularly rich seam of both creativity and commercial appeal when he turned his attention to Norwegian folk music. On the first two Norwegian Song albums, the band took a lyrical but hard-swinging approach to traditional tunes and Edvard Grieg melodies. For the third, Arnesen invited Danish jazzman Palle Mikkelborg - who composed the glacial Aura suite for Miles Davis - to contribute trumpet and flugelhorn parts, and included compositions of his own.

From the moody majesty of the Scandinavian fjords to sunnier Italy, with two appearances in the City Hall Theatre by pianist Danilo Rea: on Wednesday he and trumpeter Flavio Boltro will explore melodies from Italian opera; on Thursday, Rea goes solo with his interpretations of pop tunes and standards.

Jazz adaptations of classical pieces are a controversial issue among purists and lovers of both traditions, but it is perhaps best to regard these tunes less as sacrosanct classical compositions and more as enduringly popular tunes.

As Louis Armstrong memorably said: 'All music is folk music. I ain't never heard no horse sing a song.'

Take Three

Three landmark albums on which folk or classical music successfully interweaves with jazz.

The Nutcracker Suite (1960, Columbia): even jazz fans will accept that Duke Ellington's interpretations of Tchaikovsky worked brilliantly.

The Complete Guitarist (1978, Kicking Mule): the late Davey Graham liked to perform tunes by Bach, Big Bill Broonzy and Charles Mingus alongside Mediaeval murder ballads, and much more esoteric stuff besides. This accomplished set covers much of the range of his instrumental repertoire, from a Robert de Visee suite to Irish fiddle tunes, to self composed jazz and blues pieces.

The Amadeus Project (2007, Global Mix): borrowing characters from Mozart's operas as his inspiration, trumpeter Guy Barker produced an ambitious and successful CD project including an extended, film noir-influenced adaptation of The Magic Flute for jazz big band and narrator, scripted by novelist Robert Ryan. A performance of the work was a highlight of the 2010 Hong Kong Arts Festival.