The blend of Bobo Stenson’s pensive delivery of this famed melancholy melody and the freely moving, pulsating bed of rhythm that Jormin and Motian provide bears one of the more striking opening tracks in recent memory. As the melody unfolds and casts a gradually darker shadow, the dynamic variation intensifies, with each player choosing their own space to claim temporary headship before recoiling to concentrate on mood and texture. The spontaneous rhythmic output ranges from quick bursts, as evidenced by the perfectly poked-out bass line at 1:18, to extended runs, exemplified by Motian’s web of polymetric thoughtfulness from 1:32 to 1:42, at once intensely daring and elegant as only this drummer can supply. Far from your typical “get through the head” mentality in order to usher in the improvisation, this four-minute extended statement of “Send in the Clowns” proves that, when in doubt, melody is enough.
Recorded at the same session as "Ma
," this song was written in tribute to Swedish actor/director Gösta Ekman II, who in his early career directed a play by Tolstoy titled Fedja
. Possibly Lars Gullin's hardest-swinging song, "Fedja" is also chockfull of mystery, and might even conjure visions of a prowling, suspicious character darting across streets and disappearing in the shadows of Stockholm's Old Town – or better yet, the forested hills of Gullin's home island of Gotland off the southern coast.
Troubled by drug addiction for much of his career, Lars Gullin frequently stayed in hospitals, and this song was titled for his nurse, whom he called "Ma." It has an air of inward relaxation from Gullin, as he delicately delivers speech-like phrases over subdued padding from the band. The tune is a staple of his repertoire, in part because it bears his trademarks of structural divergence and a haunting melody (gorgeously played on clarinet by Arne Domnérus). The addition of a second baritone saxophonist, Rune Falk, makes this a unique moment in the Gullin discography.
Working in Stockholm as a member of the house band at the popular dance hall Nalen (The National), Lars Gullin was often able to flex his compositional muscles with requests for new material. Although this tune features a slow, danceable melody, the arrangement here wildly departs with an abstraction of pedal points led by the piano, while Gullin solos imaginatively and gracefully. As Gullin progressed in the early 1950s, his command of the "Cool" sound begun by the Miles Davis Nonet made the baritone saxophonist the recipient of many ovations from American and British jazz fans. Unfortunately, the crushing effects of heroin addiction made his career sputter over the next two decades, and the activity that he enjoyed during this formative, lively period of his life was less frequent after the later 1950s.
This was the first of the "folk-inspired" compositions that Lars Gullin wrote, and notably where he says his major breakthrough as a writer occurred. His goal, oddly enough, was to write a tone poem depicting a child's first steps. When you listen to this innocent tune, you might notice Gullin tacks on and removes measures within the unfamiliar formal scheme, to great effect. Outside of Sweden, numerous critics took notice of Gullin's unique compositional voice, and he earned praise from Downbeat
in 1954 as the Best New Artist on baritone saxophone. On "First Walk," however, the composer is heard anchoring the horns on bass clarinet.
Bengt-Arne Wallin led the surge in the 1960s Swedish jazz scene by putting together an album of folk song material arranged for jazz ensemble. The types of songs here are regional melodies, and lie deep in the roots of the pastoral settings of Scandinavian country life. Beginning with a tune meant to be sung when tending cattle, the music may have taken a turn away from anything coming out of the bop dens of New York, but Wallin and company show plenty of sophistication and swing hard on this 3-part suite. Thanks to an all-star team of Swedish and American jazz greats who came together in 1962 for this intrepid project, a new trend gained momentum, and Wallin joined the ranks of such other experimental Swedish jazzmen as pianist Jan Johansson and baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin in their search for a Nordic accent in jazz.
Here is a brilliantly conceived chart from a legend in the Scandinavian jazz world. Bengt-Arne Wallin gives the melody of this pensive song to the trombone section, having the trumpets remain subdued until their climactic blasts move the arrangement onto new ground. Rune Gustafsson's guitar, and bongos by Christer Jägerhuldt, set the stage for a passionate but succinct solo by Wallin. The same finesse was often shown by one of Wallin's friends and musical partners, Quincy Jones. During the early 1960s, Wallin's trumpet and flugelhorn lent themselves excellently to various ensemble situations, but he later left the performing life behind. His recent career has focused mostly on composition and arranging. He has also mentored such standouts of the newer generations of Swedish jazz artists as pianist Esbjörn Svensson and trombonist Nils Landgren.
In an industry looking for the next superstar cash cow, most singers have to become howling divas, pulsating hotties or angst-riddled yodelers in order to gain wide recognition. How many gifted musicians and singers get lost in the shuffle due to lack of funding or connections or are simply dismissed out of hand because they don't fit comfortably into an established genre? We will never know. Emerging artists in Europe may have an easier time of it, and seem to have a more receptive audience, along with a nurturing creative environment encouraging exploration and experimentation. Case in point: Swedish singer, composer and overall musical auteur Sophie Dunér. This remarkable talent wears many hats, including painter, poet and arranger. Known primarily for her bold modern classical-oriented vocal numbers backed by string quartet or orchestra, she is a prime example of this new wave of "culturanauts," hurtling over commercial barriers and breaking down conceptual doors.
Here Dunér demonstrates her range and flexibility by taking the reins of an Ellington favorite and driving it down the road less traveled. Backed by a surprisingly powerful New York-based acoustic trio, her sultry, controlled delivery and superb phrasing never sound contrived or forced. Guitarist Rory Stuart holds things together with judicious chord voicing and lean, well-constructed solo lines above Matt Penman's driving pulse and the explosive percussion work of Kahlil Kwame Bell.
Sophie Dunér may not be Ella, but her "Caravan" delivers the goods across the frontiers of what is increasingly becoming a wilderness of uncharted musical territory.
Once in a while, out of the great sea of noise known as independent music, one encounters a rare and exotic species. Such a discovery is the enigmatic Swedish singer, composer, poet and painter Sophie Dunér. Prolific, fearless and quirky, Dunér is difficult to pigeonhole. Emerging from Sweden's nurturing cultural environment in the 1990s, she studied at Boston's Berklee College of Music, played Birdland and Scullers (with the Sophie Dunér Orchestra), and most recently released The City of My Dreams
, an album of modern classical vocal compositions backed by her string quartet. On top of all that, she is a respected visual artist. The Swedish Arts Council recently awarded her a $6,000 grant to fund her myriad creative endeavors.
Here she proves she can hold her own in the jazz world as well, backed by a New York-based minimalist trio featuring the archtop guitar and upright bass, with various percussion instruments replacing the more traditional drum kit. It is the perfect vehicle for Dunér's quasi-cryptic lyrics and edgy vocal style. "Two Time Losers" teeters between cabaret and bluesy acoustic jazz, rewarding the ear with a raw, fresh intensity that well serves the irony of the lyrics. The natural recording process and aesthetics of the CIMP mix take a bit of getting used to, but it's worth the effort. Guitarist Rory Stuart delivers a mischievous, confident solo over the retro-cool upright and bongos, saying plenty without spewing needless bop clichés, while Dunér's deceptively sweet voice betrays a dark undercurrent. This is East Village coffeehouse poetry-jazz, to be served with bitter espresso, trails of cigarette smoke and black fishnet stockings. Sophie, you are just too cool.
Countless innovative recordings of this W.C. Handy staple exist, but this solo "test version" from a soundcheck is particularly thrilling for its freedom and motion. The exuberant spirit of blues meant something far different in the 1960s than when this song was originally composed by Handy in jazz's early days and first published in 1914. With his rendition, Jan Johansson, the Swedish giant of jazz, goes out on a limb and finds himself perfectly at home in a frontier of tone clusters, rhythmic displacements and jagged phrasing.
Originally recorded on the session for Jazz på Ryska
(Jazz in Russian), this song churns with smoldering playing from all participants. Drummer Egil Johansen brings some of the Elvin Jones school of zeal to the recording, and Bosse Broberg's muted trumpet enters towards the fadeout melody chorus, making the track shine. Jan Johansson's longtime bass partner, Georg Riedel, knows exactly how to anchor the pianist's fluid, mesmerizing phrases. Each of these musicians rules the landscape of Swedish jazz.
Also titled "De Sålde Sina Hemman" (They Sold Their Homesteads), this traditional Swedish folk song pays tribute to the immigrants who left Sweden for North America during the 19th century. Just as Jan Johansson received an initial boost with sideman work in Stan Getz's late '50s quartet, he received a second one after the LP Jazz på Svenska
(Jazz in Swedish) earned him attention as a forward-thinking musician with exceptional focus. Sweden's jazz scene is at times characterized by inspiration from romantic, nationalistic folk music, and Jan Johansson helped usher in that trend through his collaborations with bassist Georg Riedel that crafted jazz duo arrangements out of melancholic old melodies such as this.
In this rocker based largely on the "Charleston" dance rhythm, Jan Johansson gets around the piano with agility and spark. With Swedish jazz listeners already familiar with Johansson's talents from his debut album of 1959 (Mäster Johansgatan 12)
, the strong playing heard on "Prisma" helped earn him further praise, and a third Golden Disc award from Orkester Journalen
Jan Johansson's love of Art Tatum led him to try out numerous imitative ideas on this popular song, which Tatum himself used
as a vehicle for runs, tricks, and lightning-quick stride. No one does it better than Tatum, but here Johansson's flourishes are calm, yet delicate and spry. With 8 Bitar Johansson
(8 Pieces of Johansson), the young pianist solidified his place at the top of the Swedish jazz elite, and won his third Golden Disc Award from jazz magazine Orkester Journalen
presents the first recording sessions led by, respectively, Roy Haynes and Quincy Jones. Don't be confused by the album cover: the two sessions were separate, and the two artists do not appear together. Haynes, while on a European tour with Sarah Vaughan, recorded in Stockholm in October 1953, while Jones, who was on tour with Lionel Hampton, combined some of his fellow Hampton bandmates with the top Stockholm musicians for this November '53 date.
Scandinavian cool baritonist Lars Gullin begins the soloing on "Sometimes I'm Happy." Given his penchant for floating, experimental lines, it's easy to see how he hooked up with American cool and/or Tristano school musicians such as Chet Baker and Lee Konitz. Gullin has a well-defined cool jazz aesthetic under his fingers here, only months removed from the seminal Mulligan/Baker quartet sessions. He and Art Farmer play the finest solos, backed by Alan Dawson's crisp, clean brushwork.
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