Danish bass player Jens Mikkel Madsen’s I Think You’re Awesome group sophomore release, following the 2014 debut «Løft mig op, så jeg kan nå» (in Danish: Lift me up so I can reach), comes actually in two volumes. Both volumes, titled «Books» and «Books Live», feature the same cycle of seven compositions-songs, but in different order and arrangements. «Books» was recorded in studio and «Books Live» in Madsen’s childhood home in Langå, north of Aarhus.
Madsen, member of the modern jazz Kasper Tom 5 and a frequent collaborator of sax player Christian Vuust, picked the name «Books» as a statement about the means that assist us to share our cultural heritage, i.e. books, music and stories inspire us to understand ourselves and others. The titles of his compositions reflect his personal experiences with depression, young adulthood, alcoholism (the «Short Version of Serenity Prayer» that refers directly to the 12 Steps program) but also love and happiness. Still, both volumes radiate immediate innocence, vividness, compassion and sheer optimism.
I Think You’re Awesome feature Madsen-s long-time collaborators from the vibrant Aarhus scene as guitarists Alex Jønsson Christensen and Morten Kærup, keyboards player Lars Fiil Fredslund and Kaper Staub and drummers-percussionists Andreas Skamby and Frej Lesner. All keep playing together in different groups and formats in the last decade. Their affinity is reflected in the tight and emphatic interplay.
The «Books» volumes highlight Madsen gift to sketch almost pop-like melodic themes and to arrange these themes in a rich orchestral setting with enough room for improvisation. On «Books» the two guitarists intensify the melodic flow – especially on the poetic, bitter-sweet «Everyone’s a Comedian» and on the guitar-banjo duet through «Short Version of Serenity Prayer», and all enjoy the infectious, irresistible hard driving rhythm section, as on «Allerede Sommer» or «Three Day Open Season».
Personally, I prefer the «Books Live» version that offers looser versions of these compositions-songs. The the addition of Lars Fiil Fredslund synthesizer colors the live setting with ironic, fusion-tinged drive, and his moving, elegiac solo version of «Alting Hele Tiden», the concluding piece in this volume, is masterful. Madsen plays a solo double bass version of «People Who Love Each Other» with commanding beauty and reserved emotion. This live setting intensify the organic, playful interplay and the clever rhythmic basis of this impressive group.
If, any time, any where, somehow you will find yourself in need of comfort or encouraging soundtrack to your life choose one of the «Books» volumes or just watch the live video. You are guaranteed to feel better, much better, afterwards.
Kasper Staub (p. studio), Lars Fiil Fredslund (p, synth. live), Alex Jønsson Christensen (g), Morten Kærup (g, bjo), Andreas Skamby (dr. perc), Frej Lesner (dr, perc), Jens Mikkel Madsen (b, synth)