Alex Riel was born September 1940 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has since the sixties remained firmly established as one of the most significant and influential jazz drummers in Europe. His career began in the mid-sixties, when he was the house drummer at the legendary jazz club "Montmartre" in Copenhagen. With bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and pianist Tete Montoliu or Kenny Drew he accompanied musicians such as Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Dorham, Johnny Griffin, Don Byas, Donald Byrd, Brew Moore and Yusef Lateef.
Danish Jazz Musician of the year
In 1965 Alex Riel released his first recording as a leader. This year Riel also was chosen as the "Danish Jazz Musician of the Year". The award was presented to him by Duke Ellington assisted by drummer Sam Woodyard. On a memorable night at the Montmartre he even had the pleasure to play with Ellington's right hand, Billy Strayhorn.
In 1966 Riel was touring in Europe as a member of the Bill Evans Trio. A video tape, "Bill Evans in Oslo", with pianist Bill Evans, bassist Eddie Gomez and Riel behind the drums is available. So is a videotape, "The Close Encounter Recording Session", with Riel accompanying pianist Niels Lan Doky and bassist Gary Peacock on a tour in 1989.
Trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg and Alex Riel formed in 1967 the Riel-Mikkelborg Quintet. This group won first prize at The Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland) in 1970 and later that year they performed at The Newport Jazz Festival (USA).
Over the years Alex Riel has played and recorded with an impressive number of fine jazz musicians representing both the traditional and the modern way. His very first impression of jazz drumming was that of Big Sid Catlett and Zutty Zingleton and this early influence is still perceptible in his playing. So is the influence of Danish drummer William Schiöpffe, who played a central role on the European jazz scene of the sixties.
However Riel’s appearance with musicians such as Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean, Archie Shepp, Dizzy Gillespie, Michel Petrucciani, Gary Burton, John Scofield and David Sanborn has made him widely known as an outstanding modern drummer taking up the styles of Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes and Tony Williams.
The rock musician
Alex Riel has also been working outside the jazz area. He was in fact a founding member of the rock/beat group "Savage Rose," who achieved great popularity in and outside Denmark and even performed at the The Newport Festival in 1971. In addition he has drawn attention to himself as a rock drummer through his long time work with singer and composer Sebastian.
Since 1994 Alex Riel has released seven albums in his own name featuring contemporary stars such as Jerry Bergonzi, Michael Brecker, Kenny Werner and Mike Stern. One of these albums,"The Riel Deal" from 1996, recieved a Grammy and was furthermore selected "Jazz CD of the Year."
His 1998 CD, "DSB Kino", is another proof of Alex's versatility in the jazz field as it features his all time idol, the 82-years old Harry "Sweets" Edison, on trumpet!
In the year 1999 - on the 90 years Birthday of sax legend Ben Webster with whom Alex played so much in the sixties – Alex received the honourable “Ben Webster Award” with bass player Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen and the very talented young pianist Olivier Antunes.
In 2000 Alex turned sixty and was celebrated during a whole week at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse where he appeared in different constellations with Palle Mikkelborg, Marilyn Mazur, Kenny Werner and many more. The cd “Celebration” is a trio recording of one of these birthday concerts with pianist Kenny Werner and bass player Jesper Lundgaard. The following year Alex received another award, the "Django d'Or 2001" in the category "Master of Jazz".
In the recent years Alex Riel has been touring a great deal with the Hamburg based NDR big band featuring Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) and Etta Cameron. He also has been busy touring in Japan, Hong Kong and Korea with different trios led by Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren and Danish bass player Mads Vinding. Besides various studio jobs he has been working with Herb Geller, Charlie Mariano, Hanne Boel, Chris Minh Doky, Niels-Henning Ørsted Petersen, John Taylor, Ulf Wakenius, Niels Lan Doky, Johnny Griffin and Bob Brookmeyer.
Alex Riel’s cd “Live at Jive” is a breath taking live recording of a concert at a Danish jazz club. Here Alex is leading a quartet with Danish bass legend Jesper Lundgaard, pianist Carsten Dahl and tenor player Lutz Büchner from the NDR big band in Hamburg.
Alex Riel Trio
In the summer of 2004 Alex has made an old dream come true. He formed his own trio with bass player Jesper Lundgaard and the young and very talented pianist Heine Hansen – a constellation that seems to bring out the very best in Alex’ drumming! A cd with “Alex Riel Trio” was released on October 6th 2004 on “Cowbell Records”.