REVIEW: Mads Mathias at Sounds of Denmark at Pizza Express

Mads Mathias with Peter Rosendal (piano)
Photo credit: Cat Munro

Mads Mathias 
(Pizza Express Dean Street, 16 September 2017. Sounds of Denmark Festival. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

Mads is truly, deeply jazz. Danish singer and saxophonist Mathias is young (mid-30s), he has an easeful, natural stage presence. And after his cameo appearances at the Swing Prom at the Royal Albert Hall (reviewed) which made such a huge impression, it was fascinating to hear him in the small club context with his regular pianist Peter Rosendal, bassist Morten Ankarfeldt, and drummer James Maddren. 

Mathias' deep absorption of the jazz tradition comes across not least in the effortless, gear-shift-less way he navigates chord changes, both in original songs and in standards. In a song like The Single Trap, the sequence stays stuck on a dominant pedal in the manner of the jazz standards Dearly Beloved or Secret Love. His scat chorus on that tune had the charm, sass and humour of Clark Terry's "Mumbles". His performance of I Can't Get Started, loving and wallowing in the chromaticism, created the most complete concentration in the room, and yielded the loudest applause.


L-R: Rosendal, Mathias, Ankarfeldt, Maddren
Photo credit: Cat Munro

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These jazz traits were picked up well in Brian Blain's review of Mathias' 2015 UK debut. They are also a reminder of what a special place Denmark has been in the evolution of jazz in Europe. The country afforded a warm welcome to some great American jazz musicians, which provided a fertile place for the mainstream tradition, and a palpably American heritage, to put down solid roots. I couldn't help remembering the recently departed pianist Horace Parlan, who lived in the area of Copenhagen for over four decades. Local sidemen such as drummer Alex Riel and bassist Hugo Rasmussen (Mads Mathias wrote a very touching tribute to him for us) would have played countless dates with Americans, and this heritage comes through in the deep understanding with whch Danes  approach the music.

Among UK drummers, one might imagine Matt Skelton or Steve Brown as the naturals in this territory, so it is a token of James Maddren's joyous, smiling, encouraging versatility that he also made it so much his own last night. Morten Ankarfeldt is an ideal bassist for singers: discreet, and always perfectly in tune. There were time when I could have hoped for pianist Peter Rosendal to make a bigger impression, but his gentleness was a good foil for Mathias' effortlessly extrovert nature.

Mathias seems to wear all this jazz learning yet has wonderful ease as a performer in public. Wooing an English-speaking audience with his jokes, and drawing us all in to his performance seemed the most natural things in the world.

Mads Mathias has four more UK dates this autumn

19 September Watermill Jazz Club, Dorking
20 September Stables Milton Keynes
21 September Seven Arts Leeds 
22 September Scarborough Jazz Festival 

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