One of the highlights of the DC Jazz Festival is its international lineup. Hess Is More, a band with roots in Denmark, was a part of the international offerings at this year’s festival.
As late Sunday afternoon turned into evening on June 10, the band’s playing could not have come at a better moment. The weather was sweltering and the music didn’t start until more than 15 minutes after the scheduled time of the performance.
The result was an unexpected jazz experience, where a lot of electronic sounds were featured in the songs. Mikkel Hess, the lead vocalist, delivered electronic vocals; only in one song did he actually use normal vocals. Within the band, a synthesizer, a bass and an electric guitar were part of the mix. However, the more traditional jazz instruments of a piano and a saxophone were also played.
Despite there being seven music performers, the result, overall, was a sound that was minimalist. What was clear, however, was how the band members could have made themselves sound louder, indicating a notable use of restraint. Even the vocals were done with restraint — the same lyrics were sung over and over again in some form, creating reverberating echoes.
The instrumental sounds, vocals and lyrics created waves of ethereal beauty, where melancholy and hope lived side by side. The lyrics were often filled with sadness, but they were sung with a certain sense of confidence. The instrumental accompaniments were also performed with confidence, creating the sense that the main character could withstand life’s storms. The musicians proved, though, that even the evocation of a snow-laden dark night can be beautiful.
The question that comes to mind is whether or not this music can be construed to be actual jazz. Arguably, yes, this band can be considered to be a jazz band. While it is true that certain components of a number of the songs are extremely futuristic, the truth is that the future that had been dreamed about and pondered upon is already here and this is the kind of band that embraces this new world.
Also, if a person is truly paying attention, a certain interpretation of the blues can be discerned within the melodies and vocals. It seems that the electronic vocalizations, where not all of the lyrics are discernible, makes the point that, with the advances in technology, it is hard to listen to the other person, even when that person is in front of us.
What makes this type of jazz different from the traditional kind, however, is how the Hess Is More band has no hesitation in bringing in a strongly classical influence. On Sunday evening, that influence was Chopin (and, yes, the song is called “Chopin”). Even with that basis, that doesn’t prepare the audience for the kind of song that “Chopin” is, which is hard to wrap the mind around. The sounds of pure classical music familiarity are welcome at a certain point in the song.
Jazz can indeed evolve and reach other corners of the globe, where the music genre is molded and shaped into something refreshing and different. Hess Is More was successful in doing such things, giving the promise that jazz is an exciting thing to revisit and will be an exciting thing to continue to explore for years to come.