THE DOZENS: EUROPEAN JAZZ by Stuart Nicholson


          

     Nightclub by Suzanne Cerny

As jazz history was being constructed within the borders of the United States, it was also acquiring other histories in other part of the world, most notably Europe. Here individual nation states embraced jazz either as an engagement with modernity or, as in the case of satellite countries of the former Soviet Union, as a symbol of freedom. Yet for many fans, European jazz has tended to be regarded not for what it is, but for what it is not – American jazz.

This, of course, raises issues of “authenticity.” Does an art form originated in America become less meaningful when played by non-Americans? From this standpoint, jazz has a fixed identity, representing something intrinsically American. Yet jazz has become a global music because American culture is hegemonic to the world. Thus to non-Americans, jazz has also become their music, expressive of their own unique identity. In this view, jazz becomes their music through the lived experiences of playing the music in a way that makes sense of their own local cultural and socio-musical surroundings.


Django Reinhardt: Dinah

Track

Dinah

Group

Le Quintette du Hot Club de France

CD

Rétrospective Django Reinhardt 1934-53 (Saga 038 161-2)

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Musicians:

Django Reinhardt (guitar), Stéphane Grappelli (violin), Joseph Reinhardt (guitar), Roger Chaput (guitar), Louis Vola (bass).

Composed by Harry Akst, Sam M.Lewis and Joe Young

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Recorded: Paris, 28th December 1934

Albumcoverdjangoreinhardt-retrospective-1934-53

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

A concert on the 2nd December 1934 at the Ecole Normale de Musique marked the definitive arrival of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. Imagine how it must have sounded to 1930s jazz fans – no drums, no brass, no saxes! Twenty-six days later Reinhardt showed what a short step the campfire extemporizations of a Manouche gypsy guitarist were from jazz improvisation. The group stood out because their jazz was so quintessentially European at a time when everyone else’s was so quintessentially American. Their boulevardier brio convincingly suggested that jazz could reflect “local” culture without sacrificing the elements that made Afro-American jazz so compelling and subversive.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Bengt-Arne Wallin: Ack Värmeland du Sköna

Track

Ack Värmeland du Sköna (Oh, You Beautiful Vermland)

Artist

Bengt-Arne Wallin (trumpet, flugelhorn )

CD

The Birth and Rebirth of Swedish Folk Jazz (ACT 9252-2)

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Musicians:

Bengt-Arne Wallin (trumpet, flugelhorn ),

with 28-piece orchestra including brass, saxes, woodwinds, strings, harp and rhythm, featuring Bob Henders (trombone), Margit Taylor (wordless vocal)

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Traditional folk tune arranged by Bengt-Arne Wallin

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Recorded: June 1962, Europa Film Studio, Stockholm, Sweden

Albumcoverbengt-arnewallin-birthandrebirthofswedishfolkjazz

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Stan Getz recorded this tune in Stockholm in 1951 (released in the USA on the Roost label). Miles Davis liked it and recorded it on Blue Note as “Dear Old Stockholm.” He recorded it again on his Columbia debut ‘Round About Midnight. It had a profound effect on Scandinavian musicians, who saw it as a green light to incorporate their own culture and folkloric heritage into jazz. Encouraged by Quincy Jones (with whom he shared an apartment in Stockholm at the time), Bengt-Arne Wallin came up with Old Folklore in Swedish Modern, an album of Swedish folk tunes for a large jazz ensemble from which this imaginative arrangement is drawn.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Jan Johansson: Visa från Utanmyra

Track

Visa från Utanmyra

Artist

Jan Johansson (piano)

CD

Jazz på Svenska (Heptagon HECD-030)

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Musicians:

Jan Johansson (piano), Georg Riedel (bass).

Recorded: Stockholm, 28th February 1962

Albumcoverjanjohansson-svenskafolklatar-jazzpåSvenska

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

The best-selling jazz album of all time in Sweden is neither Kind of Blue nor A Love Supreme, but Jan Johansson’s Jazz på Svenska. It’s an album of Swedish folk tunes adapted to jazz by the visionary pianist to whom space, clarity and meaning was all. Even today, you can put a hotel radio or TV on in Sweden and hear this performance. It’s a classic example of “local” musicians outside the USA asserting their cultural identity within the music in a way that has immediate relevance to their own musical community. Jazz going from global to glocal.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Krzysztof Komeda: Astigmatic

Track

Astigmatic

Artist

CD

Astigmatic (Power Bros 00125)

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Musicians:

Krzysztof Komeda (piano), Tomasz Stanko (trumpet), Zbigniew Namyslowski (alto sax), Gunter Lenz (bass), Rune Carlson (drums).

Recorded: Warsaw, December 1965

Albumcoverkrzysztofkomeda-astigmatic

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Long regarded as a bona fide pioneer of European jazz, Komeda’s day job until his death in 1969 was writing music for films, in which capacity he was closely associated with Roman Polanski (Knife in the Water, Rosemary’s Baby). Astigmatic has become a bellwether for European jazz, with critics pointing to how this album marked a shift away from the dominant American approach with the emergence of a specific European aesthetic. In terms of structure (ad hoc song forms that had a lot to do with Komeda’s film writing), its improvisational and rhythmic approach, Astigmatic represents a fresh approach and a different way of hearing and playing jazz.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Michael Garrick: Troppo

Track

Troppo!

Artist

Michael Garrick (piano)

CD

Troppo (Universal 986 689 2)

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Musicians:

Michael Garrick (piano), Norma Winstone (vocals), Henry Lowther (trumpet, flugelhorn, violin), Art Themen (flute, tenor sax, soprano sax), Don Rendell (flute, tenor sax, soprano sax), Dave Green (bass), Trevor Tompkins (drums).

Recorded: London, October 1973

Albumcovermichaelgarrick-troppo-impressedrepressed

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Despite being overshadowed by the Beatles, the Stones et al., the 1960s and early 1970s were a golden period for British jazz. As Garrick has written, “What began to surface and receive attention were those doing something fresh and home-grown.” Identity of course. Norma Winstone’s incredible virtuosity is here put to instrumental ends alongside Lowther’s elegant lyricism, all framed by Garrick’s highly imaginative writing. Deleted after selling just a couple of hundred copies in 1974, Troppo had been described as “a lost masterpiece” until its reissue on CD in 2004.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Mike Westbrook: Hooray!

Track

Hooray!

Group

Mike Westbrook Concert Band

CD

Marching Song Vol.1 & 2 (Deram 844 853-2)

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Musicians:

Mike Westbrook (piano), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), Henry Lowther (trumpet), Malcolm Griffiths (trombone), Paul Rutherford (trombone), Mike Gibbs (trombone), Mike Osborne (alto sax), Alan Skidmore (tenor sax), John Surman (baritone sax), Chris Lawrence (bass), John Marshall (drums), Alan Jackson (drums).

Composed and arranged by Mike Westbrook

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Recorded: London, 1969

Albumcovermikewestbrook-marchingsong-volumes1and2

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

This album led trumpeter and author Ian Carr to say that Westbrook had “emancipated British jazz from American slavery” in his book Music Outside: Contemporary Jazz in Britain (1973). What he meant was British jazz had found its own voice – identity again. This potent antiwar protest is about national pride, pomp, patriotism, death, destruction and the ruined lives in war’s aftermath. “Hooray!” conveys the self-righteous patriotism of a country preparing for war. Over three decades before “freedom fries” came onto the menu, Marching Song still has powerful relevance today. Somehow we just don’t learn.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Mike Gibbs: And On the Third Day

Track

And On the Third Day

Group

Michael Gibbs

CD

Michael Gibbs (Deram 844 907-2)

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Musicians:

Big band led by Mike Gibbs, and including Kenny Wheeler, Henry Lowther, Derek Watkins (trumpet); Chris Pyne, Bobby Lamb (trombone); John Surman, Alan Skidmore, Ray Warleigh, Mike Osborne (reeds); Chris Spedding (guitar), Jack Bruce (bass), John Marshall, Tony Oxley (drums), plus French horns, tuba, percussion and cellos

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Composed and arranged by Mike Gibbs

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Recorded: London, 1970

Albumcovermichaelgibbs

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

When “Sweet Rain” became the title track of a Stan Getz album, everyone wanted to know who composed it. It was Mike Gibbs, and this, his debut album marked him out as a major talent. “And On the Third Day” is the album’s highspot, with its wonderful legato phrasing, lazy rhythmic feel and superb solos from Pyne, Surman and a “final melee” where Skidmore and Osborne join Surman. No big band had sounded like this, thanks to a combination of masterful orchestration and sensitive interpretation. Gibbs would go on to great things, but like a novelist with a celebrated debut, would not top this maiden voyage. But then, neither would anyone else.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


John McLaughlin: Arjen’s Bag

Track

Arjen’s Bag

Artist

John McLaughlin (guitar)

CD

Extrapolation (Polydor 841598-2)

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Musicians:

John McLaughlin (guitar), John Surman (soprano sax, baritone sax), Tony Oxley (drums),

Brian Odgers (bass)

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Recorded: London, January 16, 1969

Albumcoverjohnmclaughlin-extrapolation

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

The regular bass player in this short lived quartet had been Dave Holland, who a few months earlier responded to the call to join Miles Davis. Odgers is an able deputy, but it’s the luminous interplay between Surman, McLaughlin and Oxley that make this album so memorable with its arresting melodies that effortlessly segue one into another – despite unusual time signatures (13/8, for example) – and its time-no-changes approach to improvisation. Surman takes a leading role and is majestic, while Johnny Mac’s (as he was then known on the UK scene) phenomenal articulation, sense of time and space combine to create superior jazz, regardless of postcode.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Jan Garbarek: A.I.R.

Track

A.I.R.

Artist

Jan Garbarek (soprano sax)

CD

Witchi-Tai-To (ECM 833 330-2)

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Musicians:

Jan Garbarek (soprano sax), Bobo Stenson (piano), Jon Christensen (drums), Palle Danielsson (bass).

Recorded: November 1973, Oslo

Albumcoverjangarbarek-witchi-taito

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

During their respective stays in Scandinavia, George Russell and Don Cherry encouraged Garbarek to bring aspects of his own cultural and musical background into jazz, with Russell asserting Garbarek was “the most original voice in European jazz since Django Reinhardt.” Intensity, space and melody are hallmarks of Garbarek’s playing on “A.I.R.” and although Keith Jarrett later came in for Stenson at ECM record producer Manfred Eicher’s suggestion, this was nevertheless an exemplary album from an exceptional group.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Gianluigi Trovesi: L’Infanta Arcibizzarra/Crisbell

Track

L’Infanta Arcibizzarra/Crisbell

Artist

Gianluigi Trovesi (clarinet, alto sax)

CD

Round About A Midsummer’s Dream (Enja 9384-2)

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Musicians:

Gianluigi Trovesi (clarinet, alto sax), Paolo Manzolini (guitar), Fulvio Maras (drums), Jean-Louis Matinier (accordion), Renaud Garcia-Fons (bass),

Carlo Rizzo (tamburello, voice), Stefano Montanari, Stefania Trovesi (violin), Paolo Ballanti (cello)

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Recorded: July 1999, Germany

Albumcovergianluigitrovesi-roundaboutamidsummersdream

Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

Gianluigi Trovesi argued that if Duke Ellington could be influenced by the sights and sounds of Harlem, then he could be influenced by his beloved home town of Bergamo in Italy. In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bottom asks, “Will it please you…to hear a bergamask dance?” The Italian bergamasca is a dance that originated in Bergamo in 16th century. It’s all Trovesi needed to inspire this dizzying Midsummer fantasia where Italian folk dances and Renaissance variations provide a stimulus for improvisation, not as they did five hundred years ago, but refracted through the prism of jazz.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Tomasz Stanko: Soul of Things I

Track

Soul of Things I

Artist

Tomasz Stanko (trumpet)

CD

Soul of Things (ECM 016 374-2)

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Musicians:

Tomasz Stanko (trumpet), Marcin Wasilewski (piano), Slawomir Kurkiewicz (bass), Michal Miskiewicz (drums).

Recorded: Oslo, August 2001

Albumcovertomaszstanko-soulofthings

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

What do you play after Kind of Blue? It seems to consume the space before and after it, diminishing anything that follows. Here is one answer. Stanko had been mentoring a talented trio of teenagers through the 1990s and when they became his regular working group in 2000 they so perfectly complimented his musical vision that the sublime Soul of Things represents the trumpeter’s most complete artistic statement to date. Stanko says he’s played the same tune all his life, but this album’s set of thirteen variations condense a lifetime’s deeply felt emotion into a compelling series of vignettes that haunt the memory long after the music has finished.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson


Jouni Järvelä: Enkelin Kannel

Track

Enkelin Kannel

Artist

Jouni Järvelä (soprano sax, alto sax, C-melody saxophone)

CD

Lento (JJMCD-99)

Musicians:

Jouni Järvelä (soprano sax, alto sax, C-melody saxophone), Samuli Mikkonen (piano, synthesiser and goat’s horn),

Jarmo Saari (electric and acoustic guitars); Lasse Lindgren (bass), Marko Timonen (drums)

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Recorded: Järvenpää, Finland, January 1999,

Albumcoverjounijärvelä-Lento

Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

Järvelä joined the UMO Jazz Orchestra (funded by the Finnish government) as a teenager, a considerable achievement for one so young, and promptly distinguished himself as a leading solo voice. With his own band he lets his cultural heritage wash over him, and on “Enkelin Kannel,” his solo on soprano saxophone is surely one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, improvisations of the last two decades. Like a wild bird taking flight it soars effortless above the ensemble, its aesthetically pleasing symmetry and melodic construction using the rising line to dramatic and profound effect. A delight in an era where rote, pattern-based improvising has become the norm.

Reviewer: Stuart Nicholson




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