Thursday, January 3, 2008

Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen: The Unforgettable NHOP Trio Live

ACT Music
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 1.3.08
Buy CD: The Unforgettable NHOP Trio Live

NHOP is the nickname for Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, affectionately known as "the Danish bassist with the never-ending name." He was born in 1946 and died, far too young, from a heart attack in 2005. 

He began studying piano while a child but, at age 13 — when he was tall enough — he switched to bass. He was a natural; by age 15 he was playing in Copenhagen nightclubs, accompanying both local musicians and famous U.S. jazz artists who toured through European countries. 

One such individual was Count Basie, who offered Orsted Pedersen a job with his band. The young bassist, still only 17, turned Basie down so that he could finish his schooling! 

Orsted Pedersen became a fixture with the Oscar Peterson Trio in 1973, an association that continued until 1987. Ray Brown, who had been Peterson's bassist for years, once commented that "Niels was the only other bassist who could keep up with Oscar." 

Orsted Pedersen was in constant demand; during his career he was the chosen bassist on more than 400 albums. You name the artists or groups, and he played with them. 

During the early days of jazz, the bass was the plodding marker of the beat and chord changes. Orsted Pedersen wasn't the first artist to include counter-melodic lines, and to make the bass a front-line instrument, but he advanced technique to almost unbelievable levels. He played bass like a "vertical guitar," using all four fingers on his right hand to pluck the strings. 

This technique resulted in an agility and speed that were awesome; he could play frenetic tempos, and do so for sustained periods. In addition, he provided a big, rich sound; his intonation was impeccable, and his imaginative solo work was breathtaking. Because the complexity, speed and content of his passages made it difficult for the listener to follow, he used an amplifier. 

This album features excerpts from two concerts: the first recorded in Denmark in 1999, the second in Germany in '05. Guitarist Ulf Wakenius and drummer Jonas Johansen were key members of Orsted Pedersen's trio for both events. The tracks range from Bach, NHOP originals, jazz ballads ("The Song is You," "A Nightingale Sang In Barkley Square"), bop (Charlie Parker's "My Little Suede Shoes") and a gorgeous pair of Scandinavian folk songs. 

The performances are beyond exceptional.

I haven't been able to remove this CD from my player since I received it ... a definite must-buy!

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