In the blues world, a big voice is often accompanied by a big ego (or at least a medium sized one…)
But the Danish singer Thorbjørn Risager, praised for his rough and strong voice by an unanimous choir of critics from a growing number of countries – 15 the last time we counted them – is a soft-spoken gentleman off stage. He is the leader of his seven-piece band mainly for practical reasons – to bring any little issue into a group discussion can be quite time-consuming. He is also composing most of the band’s music, and during the performance he is the obvious center of attention, even if the band has a charming way of passing round the task of introducing the songs between them, so that each musician gets his word in.
And this is a real smooth organization, who has divided all practical tasks such as web master, CD sales on gigs etc between themselves. Which makes life easier in the midst of their heavy touring schedule. Since the start, they have played in 15 countries, and only from Feb – Aug 2010 they have concerts booked in 11 European countries.
But the 38-year-old Dane had other plans for his life. He studied to be a school teacher, and worked in this profession for some years, before he decided to let the music take over. He studied at the Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen, a quite unique education where many of the teachers are jazz- or rock musicians, and where the emphasis is on Rhythmic music of all genres. In 2003 he started his band, selected musicians he liked both musically and personally, and the fact that up until today only one of them left and was replaced, at an early stage of the band’s career, proves that the choice was excellent.
But of course Thorbjørn’s musical interest started long before this. He played the saxophone from the age of 12, then guitar – but the singing was more of a coincidence at first. He was exposed to the blues through a neighbour, a middle-aged gentleman who was friends with his parents, and who started playing blues records to the young Thorbjørn. That’s how his life-long love story with the blues started, with B B King as his biggest hero. Ray Charles is one of his other obvious influences, but today, with almost 40 recorded songs from his own pen, he has definitely defined his own sound and style.
His mixture of genres is something that is sometimes mentioned by critics, who are looking for something of more homogenity. But this is Thorbjørn’s deliberate choice. To hear a band that plays one shuffle after another, or only jump blues through an entire CD or concert, might please some critics but there’s definitely a risk that the audience will get bored.
And this is why Thorbjørn and his band have created their specific sound by other means, especially his characteristic raunchy voice and the band’s typical sound, with its horns, solo performances and rolling, almost big-band-like grooves. So he weaves threads of soul, gospel, rock, R&B and funk into his music, to create a variety and keep the audience interested, something that the band succeeds with on each single gig.