The Jazz.com Blog
July 02, 2009 · 0 comments
David Tenenholtz is a regular contributor to our site, whose reviews here include coverage of performances by Benny Golson and Dr. Billy Taylor. Below he reviews Jonas Kullhammar's recent appearance at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. T.G.
As a part of the weeklong Nordic Jazz Festival presented at the House of Sweden in Washington, DC, the Swedish quartet led by Jonas Kullhammar closed off the week with a free show on the Millennium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Friday. This stage presents free, open to the public concerts at 6:00pm every day, and with help from the House of Sweden (located just a stone’s throw away in Georgetown), there was a crowd of hundreds, overflowing onto the stairs next to another of the Kennedy Center’s numerous theater spaces.
The youthful quartet of Kullhammar on tenor saxophone, pianist Torbjörn Gulz, bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg, and drummer Jonas Holgersson opened the concert with “Sweet Home Snake City.” This was Kullhammar’s original tune, named after his home town of Orminge. A minor melody supported by fourths voicings from the piano, and a deep pocket of polyrhythms from the drums, this group showed its classicist bent early. The pianism of Torbjörn Gulz is straight up out of the McCoy Tyner academy, and the centered modern sound tenor of Kullhammar is one that often recalls Sonny Rollins but with an even heavier use of the saxophone’s lowest register. Actually, it is a thrilling sound, and Kullhammar on this occasion seemed more influenced by Coltrane and his devotees, namely Michael Brecker. “Sweet Home Snake City” presented the modern tenor approach in this vein, and after a couple minutes into the sax solo, the band was really burning.
I found myself wondering, “Will this hegemonic style that the Swedes demonstrate so well be the way the whole concert goes, or do they have some deeper take on this approach to jazz?” The piano solo by Gulz had nice playing; all very “correct” if seemingly falling short of a focused statement due to some more lick-heavy passages. They captured the style of some brilliant Blue Note albums like Tyner’s The Real McCoy or Joe Henderson’s Inner Urge.
While the band didn’t work too hard to escape these influences, the music was presented with focused intent, and a decent amount of interplay. Kullhammar addressed the crowd in English after “Sweet Home Snake City,” and explained that Friday was a Swedish holiday called Midsummer’s Eve. Jokingly, he mentioned that the tradition states that Swedes dance around a pole and then sing songs, such as one called “Little Frogs,” followed by drinking Schnapps and eating herring. They are too often “totally drunk,” so it was nice the quartet was playing in DC instead. The audience laughed loudly after Kullhammar joked, “Normally you would drink and then dance, but Swedes do it the other way around!”
Pianist Gulz’s tune “Rat Beat,” had a story behind it, and Kullhammar divulged it had been named after a rat Gulz had killed in his home. Indeed, an intro by Gulz made use of lithe fragments and strange dissonances, evoking images of a rat running around a house, finding small nooks to hide in and dart out of. Gulz produced his best “ECM sounds” from the piano before setting up the vamp that entered afterward, which gave a foundation for a surprisingly Monkish theme. “Rat Beat” had a fun melody over an AABA structure, punctuated by syncopated quick leaps in its phrases. Each player diced up slices of beats, before busting into galloping, bluesy changes. The fluidity and deep listening of the drummer, Jonas Holgersson, provided the propulsion the group needed to make this music shine. The piano solo was evenly paced, if a bit cautious, with some choice motifs worked through in succession.
Kullhammar introduced the “handsome” bassist, Torbjörn Zetterberg, as “the best writer of love songs in Sweden.” The ballad “October Is a Long Time Too,” offered more of a relative contemporaneity than the previous selections. In 6/4 time, the plaintive melody gave Zetterberg room to elaborate on his solo with his bow, before slowly turning it into a rustling on the strings, creating a sort of eerie statement. Kullhammar played well above the normal high register on his solo, but with so much confidence that the notes might as well be a grounded part of the instrument.
The final selection in this (on the short side) program, was the rhythmically energetic “Bristol Scream,” the title referring to an unruly bar patron who shouted some unpleasant remarks towards the band during a gig in that city. Thankfully, this audience, packed in tight as they were, remained enthusiastic about the music they were hearing, and awarded drummer Jonas Holgersson with numerous rounds of applause throughout his extended solo workout towards the end of the tune. The audience was respectful of Kullhammar’s young working band that showed where they had been, and hopefully where they were headed. Next month, the Swedes will be included in an extensive international lineup at the Stockholm Jazz Festival.
This blog entry posted by David Tenenholtz