Benjamin Koppel – Story of Mankind, a Requiem – Cowbell Music

by | Jun 14, 2024 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Benjamin Koppel, once again tackles major historical issues, in a musical setting…

Benjamin Koppel – Story of Mankind, a Requiem – Cowbell Music #93 – 2 CD (44:20, 43:25) – ****1/2

(Benjamin Koppel – alto sax; Randy Brecker – trumpet; Henrik Dam Thomsen – cello; Soren Moller – piano, organ, Fender Rhodes; Johnny Aman – acoustic bass; Ferenc Nemeth – drums & percussion; Frederikke Vedel – vocals)

Danish jazz saxophonist, Benjamin Koppel, is unafraid of tackling in lush musical settings, major historical events, that are seldom, if ever, presented in jazz motifs. Whether it being Danish resistance to anti-semitism in World War II, or the horrid living conditions for European immigrants in New York City in the late 1800s, Koppel merges both jazz and classical motifs in deeply emotional compositions. We reviewed both White Buses: Passage to Freedom (2023), and Mulberry Street Symphony (2022), the latter of which composed by his father.

With his new 2 CD release, Story of Mankind, a Requiem, just released on the Cowbell Music label, Benjamin goes even farther, this time dealing with man’s inhumanity to man, in the ultimate setting, wars between countries.

He compares the brutality of World War I, with the current attack on Ukraine, by Russia’s Putin. The stark photos on the gate fold CD prepare the listener for the outrage of unprovoked efforts for annihilation. Little has changed over the centuries, as ethnic cleansing efforts continue around the world. Though, we may be in “modern times,” cruelty continues unabated.

For this new release, Koppel utilizes a small group comprised of alto sax, trumpet, cello, keyboards, bass, and drums. American trumpet stalwart, Randy Brecker, provides the gravitas, sophistication, and power needed to blend with Koppel’s passionate alto sax. Benjamin composed all of the tracks and the weighty lyrics were written by Guillaume Apollinaire, “TT” Krag, and Morten Sondergaard. The lyrics are provided in Danish, French, and English, and there are brief “afterthoughts” after each composition, with the exception of the closing title track.

There is a mixture of somberness, anger, and some “hopefulness,” but in small measure. Vocalist, Frederikke Vedel. uses her vocal range to express outrage, grief, and boundary setting. 

On the somber, “You Who Hear Us Now,” Randy Brecker’s wailing solo sets the stage for what is to come. Brecker and Koppel improvise often in counterpoint, such as on “I Don’t Believe.” How we continue to treat each other during our brief time on earth is the weighty subject of “Absurd.”

“Rehearsing Dying,” hoping for an end to wars, is matched by the outrage of “Civilization,” where Putin is mentioned with disdain. On Disc #2, boundary setting is the theme on “Therefore I Am,” while the heart wrenching, “Night Soft Night,” has the subject thinking about a partner in the midst of a war.

The title track is a fit closer, a stirring musical elegy, that might elicit some hope in trying times.

Once again, Benjamin Koppel, rises to the occasion in taking on subjects seldom mentioned in non-classical music settings. He is a musical maverick, that deserves wider acclaim for his brave efforts to inspire and demand contemplation. One wonders what direction he will head in the future. It will certainly be worth following.

—Jeff Krow

Benjamin Koppel – Story of Mankind: A Requiem


CD 1:
You Who Hear Us Now
Afterthought #1
I Don’t Believe
Afterthought #2
Afterthought #3
Rehearsing Dying
Afterthought #4
Afterthought #5
Toc Toc La Dame
Afterthought #6

CD 2:
Noux Dimes Adieu 
Afterthought #7
Therefore I Am
Afterthought #8
Afterthought #9
Afterthought #10 
Night Soft Night
Afterthought #11
The Story of Mankind


Available through Amazon

Album Cover for Benjamin Koppel Story of Mankind - A Requiem

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