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Carsten Dahl Paints Music

by Howard Lawes




Carsten Dahl Painting Music


Carsten Dahl's latest band is a piano trio with Nils Bo Davidsen on bass and Stefan Pasborg on drums but the album title, Painting Music, is a clue to what is a multi-artistic project that includes not just music but art and poetry as well.  The album cover has original artwork by Dahl, a semi-abstract picture of a violinist that almost shimmers as if music is emanating from it while inside, another Dahl picture is titled Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard Walks in the Winter Forest. There is also a photograph of Dahl, apparently having just emerged from his studio with paint covered fingers and a Dahl poem.

Remarkably, Carsten Dahl has featured on more than 150 albums and yet despite considerable popularity in his native Denmark, and having been awarded the Danish Music Award Jazz Prize on at least two occasions, he has had less success in the U.K. and elsewhere. 

Dahl began his musical career as a drummer and was taught by Ed Thigpen, but then transferred to piano going on to play with Thigpen on the album Elements Of Swing, released in 2002, with Joe Lovano on saxophone and Jesper Bodilsen on bass.


Carsten playing Chelsea Bridge with Ed Thigpen, Joe Lovano and Jesper Bodilsen




It is not clear whether the title of Dahl's Painting Music album refers to music inspired by art or music which is good to listen to while painting.  Perhaps the most famous music inspired by art is Pictures At An Exhibition by Mussorgsky, dedicated to the artist Viktor Hartmann, but there are many others such as Vincent (Starry Starry Night) by Don McLean dedicated to Vincent van Gogh.


Broadway Boogie Woogie painting


There are fewer examples of jazz music inspired by art but one of note is the album Colour Beginnings by saxophonist Tim Whitehead, inspired by the artist JMW Turner. The impact of specifically jazz music on art includes examples such as Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian and Jazz by Henri Matisse. 

Broadway Boogie Woogie by Piet Mondrian


Henri Matisse Jazz




Jazz by Henri Matisse







The artist Jackson Pollock was a huge jazz fan and certainly listened to jazz while painting, suggesting that his art was significantly influenced by the music he heard and in fact Ornette Coleman featured a Jackson Pollock artwork on the album cover of his 1961 release Free Jazz.


The album cover is of course another form of art presenting music and some record companies such as Blue Note where graphic designer Reid Miles took a great deal of care over the packaging of their albums.  Album covers such as those for Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet and Mingus Ah Um by Charles Mingus by Neil Fujita seem to have a touch of Kandinsky about them. 

The Painting Music album has ten tracks, two are composed by Dahl, Davidsen and Pasborg; one is a Danish folk song while the remaining tracks are new arrangements of standards such as All The Things You Are by Jerome Kern, Solar by Miles Davis and Autumn Leaves by Joseph Kosma.  Several of the tunes feature colours, the folk song which can be translated as I Went Out On A Summer’s Day tells of golden skies; Autumn Leaves surely conjures up a feast of colours while other tunes such as Harold Arlen's Somewhere Over the Rainbow and Miles Davis's Blue In Green have obvious colour references. 


A live performance of Carsten Dahl and Trinity with Autumn Leaves and Be My Love.




The phenomenon of synesthesia (where two or more senses are excited simultaneously) is well known and as Carsten Dahl says "In this recording it felt like we were all painting on the same canvas, merging our perceptions into a single spirit".  Jazz music, and especially live improvised music is ephemeral and while music can be recorded, there is a quality that is lost when converted into digital technology. Painted art is permanent and remains exactly as the artist intended. Perhaps musicians can think in colour and at least within their own minds create an artwork that will last a lifetime.


A live performance video of Miles Davis' Blue In Green.




Carsten Dahl is a formidable musician who certainly deserves to be listened to. As well as working with jazz ensembles, Dahl plays solo piano and quoting from his website "... for his two solo albums, Dahl took inspiration from both classical pianist Glenn Gould and jazz pianists like Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Cecil Taylor and Bud Powell; cultivating improvisation in extreme situations". Painting Music is in a similar mould, the new arrangements of jazz standards depart considerably from the originals and the listener will make of them what they will but perhaps the music will conjure a work of art in their mind or, like Gina Southgate, the artist who paints jazz, they might just get it down on canvas.

Click here for details of the album Painting Music with samples of Sailing With No Wind and Autumn Leaves.


Carsten Dahl



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Other pages you might find of interest :

Philip Larkin's Jazz
Free Improvisation - Pyne and Grew
Video Juke Box
Jazz As Art

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