Anders Koppel’s Strange, Dark Organ Music


STILL LIFE / A. KOPPEL: Evenfall. White Night. Step on a Crack. Blue Staircase. Oh Moon. Everyday Dog Life. Deserted Streets. Figaro. The Italian. Regret. April Rain Song. Shiny Shoes. Little Infinite Poem. Still Life. Final / Anders Koppel, Hammond B3 org; Henrik Dam Thomsen, cel / Dacapo 8.226223

Although I’ve had occasion to review music by Anders Koppel before (and also by his son, Benjamin Koppel), I had never heard his organ music before.

Man oh man, is this weird stuff!

It’s not just that the musical progression is weird, by which I mean that it seems to ruminate in and out of tonality, in and out of phasing of the organ sound and other such ways, but that the mood it produces on the listener is weird. This is almost the kind of music you would have expected to hear on the soundtrack of one of Ingmar Bergman’s stranger, more surrealistic films, maybe even in the background of such cult American horror film classics as Carnival of Souls, Daughter of Horror or Eraserhead. It’s really that strange.

Moreover, although the album is divided into 15 separate and discrete piece with various titles as noted in the header to this review, the music almost sounds cumulative, as if each piece is supposed to follow in sequence. The music really does seem to develop from a moody, restless opening into the pieces that follow. The titles almost seem like signposts indicating the mood of each section and not necessarily referring to each piece as being a separate entity.

This specific music by Koppel exists in a dream world that borders on the surreal and uneasy. Even such an uptempo piece as Step on a Crack, with its jazz rhythm and feel, never quite breaks into the realm of wakefulness or happiness. The next piece, Blue Staircase, wraps the listener up in circular musical patterns played by the cello while the organ stays in D minor before suddenly jumping about the harmonic spectrum, leading in time to a long, slow chromatic walk down the keyboard, then leaping once again into jazz-like figures. Oh Moon almost sounds like a pop ballad, with the cellist playing a very tonal and catchy melodic line, but once again the darkness of the organ accompaniment moves it into a less accessible realm.

This is followed, in turn, by one of the most fragmented and surreal pieces, Everyday Dog Life, which juxtaposes edgy and melodic segments in a strange mosaic. At one point, the tempo picks up considerably to produce a sort of swirling atonal polka.

One could go on with detailed descriptions of each track, but the listening experience is infinitely more fascinating than any written analysis could be. There are so many surprises in these pieces that I leave it to each individual listener to discover them for themselves. Koppel juxtaposes so many different styles and moods in these pieces that it is a virtual smorgasbord of sounds, each startling and unexpected, and it is that very state of being surprised that makes the album so fascinating.

For those who spurn the idea of jazz-influenced classical music or classical-influenced jazz, of course, much of this album may frustrate you, but I found it interesting and engaging from start to finish. You just can’t beat this CD for a fun time. Have your teenager play it at his next sock hop!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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