By Peter Elsnab, journalist and Jesper Nykjær Knudsen, music editor og journalist, 2006
If you dare
Music can be wonderfully immediate and easily accessible – yet enormously demanding. Music can demand that you dare to immerse yourself in it, giving it more than one chance. I wonder if most people feel this way with Aura? However, the bonus is that there is a sudden revelation of worlds that we never knew the existence of. Composer and trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg’s ‘Aura’ is a complex work. A concept album that can be difficult to comprehend. It is played by some of the finest jazz musicians from Denmark and overseas – but is it jazz in the traditional sense?
One colour, one note
The concept for Aura is based on an idea that Mikkelborg conceived for one of jazz’ greatest musicians and recorded with him; specifically, the trend-setting American trumpeter Miles Davis, who died aged 65 in 1991.
This charismatic musician has inspired many other musicians and genres, from drum ’n’ bass to jazz, including Palle Mikkelborg. Mikkelborg believed that he could see different colours in Miles Davis’ aura.
Mikkelborg built Aura upon these colours and at the same time converted the letters of Miles Davis’ name into notes. The works’ ten numbers are played in different keys and each has its own colour as a title. Does this sound a bit spiritual? That’s because Mikkelborg is a spiritual and philosophically-inclined musician. He says that music is a voyage of discovery in the search for inner peace.
Aura contains composition music without genres, where fascinating sound landscapes and virtuoso displays whirl around one other far out at the edges of the jazz spectrum. Aura contains an advanced blend of elements of funk, rock, fusion, classical and much more in a form that is completely open to interpretation – if one dares. Despite the fact that the numbers are called ‘White’, ‘Orange’, ‘Green’ etc., surely it is not the intention that the listener should imagine those colours when listening to the music?
Did you know?
In 1995, Palle Mikkelborg composed ‘Soundscape’, which was played on the west coast of Denmark in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Denmark. Around 1,000 Danish musicians came together to record the work, which accompanied the light sculpture Linien-Lyset by Elle-Mie Ejdrup Hansen. The light sculpture was intended to be an unbroken line of light along the west coast from Skagen to Sylt; however, technical problems prevented the line from being accomplished. Palle Mikkelborg’s composition was, however, played completely as planned.
The committee's justification
By the Committee for Music, 2006
There are 10 letters in the American trumpet player Miles Davis’ name. To Palle Mikkelborg, each of these letters represents a colour – and a note. These are the fundamental ingredients of the suite ‘Aura’ which Mikkelborg wrote in 1984 for Miles Davis and the DR Big Band when Davis received the Leonie Sonnings Music Award in Copenhagen. The following year, the suite was recorded and now represents the most sterling orchestral work in Danish improvisational music. The suite also bears witness to the fact that Danish musicians were able to take the external music form of jazz and give it an extremely personal character at the same time as the Danish jazz milieu was continually working internationally and only occasionally with the ambition of creating an identifiable Danish jazz language.
For Palle Mikkelborg, music and art are universal, and are also loaded with spirituality. The spiritual, the improvised and the elegantly structured are united in Aura in an uncommonly successful symbiosis and the selection of tones and colours bring about hugely expanded opportunities for interpretation. The involvement of many Danish musicians in this international production – including all of DR Big Band’s horn section – is also done with a skilfulness and consequence that has contributed to placing international focus on Danish jazz. The principal solo voice is Davis’ trumpet, which moves expertly in and around Mikkelborg’s themes, and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Bo Stief and Thomas Clausen join the line-up of soloists with striking energy.