Denmark's jazz secret is out By Chris Mosey, May 28, 2017. All About Jazz.
The Copenhagen daily newspaper Berlingske Tidende in 2015 called Margrete Grarup "the best kept secret in Danish jazz." In 2017, with two albums released in rapid succession on Storyville, that secret is out... and a star is born.
Grarup has a wonderfully rich and expressive voice. She comes to jazz via the Scandinavian blues and gospel scene. There she would sing "down in Mississippi where I come from" like she meant it. She's actually from Aalborg in north-eastern Denmark.
Clasping the microphone stand, stamping out the rhythm with her foot and swaying to the beat, Grarup joyously cocks a snook at the Jantelag or Law of Jante. Formulated by Danish author Aksel Sandemose, this describes a facet of the Scandinavian mentality in which individual brilliance must be curbed in favour of collective mediocrity. The law's stultifying influence is felt throughout Scandinavia.
It is perhaps telling that on her second album, titled simply "Standards," Grarup is denied top billing, relegated instead to being just one of a quartet led by veteran bassist Mads Vinding. On the cover, the quartet is pictured in profile so that it's difficult to pick out any one individual.
To put it in context, try to imagine Billie Holiday being listed as merely one of "The Teddy Wilson Quartet."
The trouble with standards is that too often they tend to be just that, set in stone to be endlessly regurgitated by every new vocal talent that comes along. Grarup wants none of this.
She takes Cole Porter's "Love For Sale" and—shedding the dust of a thousand different versions—reveals the song Porter intended: the cynical but plaintive cry of a young girl languishing in a Depression era brothel.
Perhaps the cry emanated from the songsmith's own soul. Gay long before the term was invented, Porter was doomed all his life to be "queer" and condemned to life in the closet.
At the other end of the scale, Grarup's version of "Over The Rainbow," strips away the Hollywood schmaltz of Judy Garland et al, to unveil a pristine anthem to youthful innocence.
She gives "Autumn Leaves" a poetic relevance it probably hasn't enjoyed since 1945 when it was known as "Les Feuilles Mortes" (The Dead Leaves) with bitter/sweet lyrics by French scenarist Jacques Prévert.
Anxious not to get bogged down in a jazz hinterland where poetry borders on pretension, Grarup takes refuge in the blues with a rocking version of that venerable 12-bar, "Everyday I Have The Blues." Originally recorded in 1935 by Pinetop Sparks, reworked by Memphis Slim in 1949, it was immortalised by the Count Basie band and vocalist Joe Williams in the 1950s.
Towards the close, Grarup gets low down and dirty, her growling tones bringing to mind the great Bessie Smith.