The world of Scandinavian female percussionists
I went on a little musical journey this week over Thanksgiving.
As I often do, I explore the world of music by seeking out the work of musicians who have played with my favorite musicians. This is particularly useful for drummers and percusionists, who often move around.
This week, I began by journey by digging into the work of Marilyn Mazur. Born in the USA to Polish-African-American parents, Mazur has lived in Denmark since the age of 5, so she is for all intents and purposes European. She first came to prominence worldwide when she joined the touring band of Miles Davis after playing in the band for his 1984 Sonnings Award-winning concert, where he played a lengthy composition written for him by Palle Mikkelborg, The composition was finally recorded as “Aura” and released in 1989, after Davis had to get an NEA grant to cover recording costs, since his record company at the time refused to pay for the project.
Several years touring with Miles Davis were followed by a lengthy period as the percussionist in the Jan Garbarek Group. This incarnation of the group became the best-known internationally, a beautifully balanced ensemble with Garbarek on reeds, Eberhard Weber on bass, Rainer Bruninghaus on keyboards, and Mazur herself on percussion. All the time, Mazur was recording her own music, via a collection of ensembles that she uses to explore a wide variety of musical forms. Her CD “All The Birds”, culled mostly from live concerts in Scandinavia, is probably the best overview of her musical skills and sesibilities. Collaborators on it include Palle Mikkelborg.
One of the ensenbles that Mazur formed in the late 1990s was Marilyn Mazur’s Percussion Paradise. This occasional group comprised Mazur and whoever she could grab at the time from the ranks of local female percussionists.
Lisbeth Diers is another one of the established Danish percussionists. Adept at both kit drumming and percussion, she has been playing and recording in Scandinavia and Europe for a long time. Here she is holding her own against the great Airto Moreira and Triok Gurtu in 1999 . Here she is at the same festival playing with Mazur and Don Alias. Here she is trying to get gongs and suspended blocks made of ice to sound, well, percussionistic…
Benita Haastrup has been a member of the Mazur ensemble for a number of years. She is a percussionist and music educator, traveling through Scandinavia bringing live music to schools and colleges with her trio DrumDrum. Here is the trio in Copenhagen earlier this year. The trio has released a CD named “Going North”.
Birgit Lokke-Larsen is the fourth member of the ensemble, a percussionist, composer, singer and painter. She has recorded solo CDs “Forbidden Forest”, “Lid Digt”. She formed an occasional duo in 2012 with Jesper Silberg on trumpet and keyboards named Timeland. Like all true percussionists, she will hit anything that might make an interesting sound.
Diers, Haastrup and Lokke also have an occasional side project named Trigong, where they go outdoors and make percussive music using instruments and natural objects.
So here is Percussion Paradise – Mazur, Diers, Lokke and Haastrup, tearing up the Copenhagen Jazzhouse in 2006.
There is a free-wheeling experimental edge to Scandinavian jazz that always results in interesting sounds. Here is Lisbeth Diers playing a small venue with Staffan Svensson in 2012.
There is so much more interesting stuff being created under Mazur’s wing, including Marilyn Mazur’s Shamania, an all-female ensemble, including Lisbeth Diers and the singer Jennifer Cronhokm, with a rotating cast of characters, including dancers. Shamania is true world music, impossible to categorize.
Another Mazur ensemble is Spirit Cave, including Eivind Aarset and Nils Petter Molvaer. .
Here is another live video of Spirit Cave, with a Mazur percussion solo that shows her raw power and chops. She also seems to have brought just about every heavyweight percussion instrument on stage for that concert.
And here is another occasional ensemble, Future Song.
Marilyn Mazur is woven into the DNA of Scandinavian jazz so tightly, and is involved in just about every leading-edge ensemble in the region. Not only that, but her presence has led to an explosion of interest in percussion by women.