Tweaking the compositions of Denmark’s most prominent composer to new ends, The Firebirds – tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Anders Banke, keyboardist Anders Filipsen and percussionist Stefan Pasborg – discover hitherto hidden grooves in Carl August Nielsen’s (1865-1931) work.
Concentrating on extracts from Aladdin, the Helios Overture and Little Suite for Strings, the trio emphasizes eastern Eurasian dance-like motifs with pliable keyboard shakes and ney-like reed outbursts, while adding a pronounced, almost rock-like beat to the tunes. If a combination of tenor sax blasts and drum backbeats suggest heavy metal tropes on The Market Place in Ispahan, remember that rock style is now as prominent in Scandinavia as the buoyancy of Nielsen’s tunes, exemplified by Filipsen’s animated key chiming. The Helios Overture provides the most varied instance of the trio’s sound reconstitution. Evolving from sophisticated saxophone and ruffled keyboard timbres at the beginning, to a snaking, stop-time melody examination in the middle, to an intense display of agitated snare pops and splashing cymbal from Pasborg, the convivial theme returns as light swing by the finale, helped by the keyboardist’s walking bass line.
The band’s name came about after the trio recorded a CD which transformed some Stravinsky compositions into semi-improvised theme and variations. The three have now proven they can perform similar alchemy on another composer’s work with this CD. There are plenty of other modern composers whose work could provide material for equal transformations.