Combining the gutsiness of blues with the sophistication of modern European jazz, Danish saxophonist Fredrik Lundin’s “Belly-up” is a fitting tribute to the toughest bluesman of them all: Leadbelly. The CD’s seven tunes, plus one original, slather the raw melodies of Leadbelly (whose real name was Huddie Ledbetter) with complex jazz harmonies and roiling, intense rhythms making a fascinating synergy.
Although Copenhagen has always been a home away from home for jazz, Overdrive, a modern electric-jazz group of Denmark’s best jazzers, display a profound feeling for authentic country blues. At times, the melodies, originally shaped in the ’20s by Leadbelly’s gravelly, angry voice and 12-string guitar, float atop intricate arrangements; at others, the group lays into the melodies with a crisp punch from electric guitar and a wailing horn section.
It’s the small touches that reveal the subtlety and mastery of this merger. The circular melody of “Black Girl” has an aching fragility, while “Take This Hammer” rollicks defiantly over tight New Orleanian drumming. The vocals on “Goodnight, Irene” (the only track with singing) turn the well-known lament into a booming big-band number.
Though Leadbelly was not much of a traveler himself (he once went to Washington D.C., wrote “The Bourgeois Blues” in response, and quickly departed for his home in the South), “Belly-up” shows that his music can feel right at home in Copenhagen.
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