Benjamin Koppel

February 7, 2024

White Buses Passage to Freedom
Cowbell Music 088

Seemingly off-putting, especially in a time of a resurgence of Anti-Semitism throughout the world, but Danish alto saxophonist Benjamin Koppel has managed to pull off the seeming impossible. He’s created a thoughtful yet cadenced Jazz session that recalls a Holocaust survival story. In a non-government sanctioned but spontaneously coordinated efforts, some ordinary citizens in Germani-occupied Denmark saved most of the country’s Jews from the final solution. This included a late war effort that via white buses transported 425 Jews from the Theresienstadt concentration camp back to Denmark.

Using the buses as a metaphor, Koppel composed a suite that joins brief or extended musical interludes from swinging to sombre with clips of the survivors’ testimony. As a prelude to the music, their tales are immediately translated into English by Croation-American Thana Alexa, who also contributes wordless vocalizing to many tracks.

Besides Koppel’s yearning and quivering reed motifs, tracks are colored by singular and specific contributions from Danes, cellist Henrik Dam Thomsen and keyboardist Søren Møller. Mexican drummer Antonio Sánchez and Americans, pianist Uri Caine and bassist Scott Colley.

No collection of solos, this group effort highlights and emphasizes the verbal memories. Doleful Eastern-European string harmonies underline painful narratives such as seeing a woman shot or the omnipresent hunger and foraging for food in captivity. Meanwhile outrightly swinging piano swells, drum paradiddles, a walking bass line and ascending reed vibrations emphasize triumphant anecdotes like the arrival of the buses or repatriation to Danish homes where the friendly welcome includes clean sheets and decent food.

With a few exceptions including stop-time emphasis, slinky tonal interludes and emotional breaks for keyboard clipping or ascending note squeaks from the saxophone, the music is a variation on Bop and Swing. Yet those contemporary motifs add to the harmonic blend of the musical statement.

White Buses’ significant achievement is to meld words and music to effectively exalt a significant story from a bleak and dangerous time. It also glorifies individuals’ efforts that organized the equivalent of “golden carriages” to rescue people from what one survivor describes as “the devil under the skin” of many humans. That’s a sentiment that should be reflected in many of 2024’s numerous conflicts.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing:1. Introduction – Testimonial 1 2.The Devil Under the Skin 3. Testimonial II 4.The Woman With Her Violin 5. Testimonial III 6. I Was Terrified 7. Testimonial IV 8. Dreaming of Food 9. Testimonial V 10. Two Birds in a Nest 11. Testimonial VI 12. The Planes in the Sky 13. Testimonial VII 14. Rumors 15. Testimonial VIII 16. Die Danen Raus 17.Testimonial IX 18. My Father 19. Testimonial X 20.The White Bus 21. Testimonial X 22. Ihe Goodbye 23.Testimonial XII 24. Potsdam 25. Testimonial XIII 26. The Welcoming Pt 1. 27. The Welcoming Pt. 2  28. Testimonial XIV 29. Awake or Dreaming 30. Testimonial XV 31. A Fantastic Miracle 32. Testimonial XVI 33. The Golden Carriage

Personnel: Benjamin Koppel (alto saxophone); Uri Caine (piano); Søren Møller (keyboards); Henrik Dam Thomsen (cello); Scott Colley (bass); Antonio Sánchez (drums); Thana Alexa (vocals)