Bruno Råberg: Fora Do Retrato

Bruno Råberg is a Swedish bassist who studied with the great Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous and has performed with many great European and American jazz artists. He is currently living in Massachusetts and teaching at Berklee. His music is both highly textured and impressionistic. On "Fora Do Retrato," one his more subdued pieces on the album, he takes a gentle, wandering stroll through a gentle musical pasture. You can hear the brushstrokes on this aural canvas as Råberg creates his landscape. His basslines are firm and anchored, onto which Cheek playfully dances with his soprano explorations. Monder is at his best in this atmospheric setting, playing in a deceptively subdued but poignantly thoughtful way. Bruno's bass climbs a wall of anticipation and punctuates the breaks with purposeful accents, leading to a safe descent from the plateau he has cleverly built.

October 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Still

My advance copy of this CD, the final studio project by the late Esbjörn Svensson, lists the instruments as piano, bass and drums. Yet the music on this track, and throughout the Leucocyte CD, is drenched in electronics. Svensson works here amidst a jungle of gurgles, buzzes, zings, beeps, rumbles and other assorted sounds. On top of this, a wistful, elegiac piano part eventually enters, and moves ahead with slow, stately precision. The piece follows a strict tempo, but if the beats were any farther apart, you would need to send out signal flares so one bar wouldn't get lost from the next. At times, the trio's work here reminds me of some of electro-acoustic jazz coming from the iconoclastic Erstwhile label. Yet the piano part itself is almost a New Age parody, and its juxtaposition against the electronic house of mirrors is peculiar. Imagine someone tinkling at the ivories in the parlor while downed power lines are sizzling across the carpet, and you may get some idea of the unsettling sensibility of "Still." We will now never know where this surprising phase in Svensson's career might have led. But the music on Leucocyte suggests that this artist was focused on forging ahead into new and untamed musical territory.

September 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobo Stenson: A Fixed Goal

Bobo Stenson sounds a bit like Keith Jarrett in the way he approaches this lesser-known tune from the pen of Ornette Coleman—which shouldn't surprise, since the two pianists followed a roughly parallel course at one time in their careers. Each first recorded for ECM more than 30 years ago. Both have used many of the same musicians: in the '70s, Jarrett led a memorable quartet with tenor saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. With Garbarek, Stenson co-led the same lineup (minus Jarrett) more or less contemporaneously. Both Stenson and Jarrett possess a lyrically romantic strain and a free-flowing melodic sense.

However, the passing years have seen their paths diverge, as this performance shows. Whereas Jarrett has become primarily an interpreter of the standard jazz repertoire, Stenson maintains his interest in freer structures. "A Fixed Goal" is the kind of start-and-stop, out-of-time tune that suits his abilities so well. He plays with a gentle yet precise touch. He states the theme in octaves, but tends to rely on single-note lines in his solo. The strategy gives the music a sparse texture, in which the occasional chord or parallel line becomes striking in contrast. Jormin has a swift technique and a dynamically sensitive manner that allows him to shadow and answer the pianist's ebbing and flowing. Fält is a light-handed drummer, maintaining an oblique swing while both embellishing the counterpoint and adding swaths of tonal color. This is head-and- heart stuff, attractive in every respect.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lars Danielsson & Leszek Mozdzer: Praying

Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson is a great bass player in the Nordic tradition: virtuosic, musical and lyrical. On this track the bass actually carries the melody alone in the first few bars and continues doing so, alternating roles with the piano, throughout the tune. In the hands of Polish virtuoso Leszek Mozdzer, the piano likewise takes a very lyrical approach to the melody . Nevertheless, the 6/8 rhythm of this beautiful tune is not neglected, giving the melody a mellow dancing twist that adds much to its romantic charm.

August 25, 2008 · 2 comments

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Andreas Öberg: A.M. Call

In our evolving street culture, slang words sometimes contradict their original definitions. Take "stupid," which according to Dictionary.com can now mean excellent or terrific. A fellow musician, who shall remain nameless, recently applied that term to the playing of Andreas Öberg. This 30-year-old, Swedish-born guitarist has rock-star good looks and packs venues wherever he performs. Confident almost to the point of cockiness, he could never be accused of being demure, and some musicians seem to resent him a bit. But I like him a lot. I think he's going to be a very big deal. Equally at home with bebop, blues or Gypsy swing, there seems to be no limit to his stylistic range or facility with the fretboard.

On this particular cut he takes aim at an icy funk groove in the tradition of Eric Gale, but with more ammo in his clip. Still, no one could accuse him of overkill on this outing. He drops the chops with smart-bomb precision, supported by Vic Stevens's deadly backbeat and Kuno Schmid's tastefully synthesized bass. The extraordinary Romanian pianist Marian Petrescu provides enough depth and intrigue to free the piece from a two-dimensional envampment.

Even with its new, superlative connotation, however, "stupid" doesn't quite convey the awe inspired by this young guitar chopsta, currently walking point for Europe's jazz revolution army.

August 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Eighthundred Streets By Feet

Already having an excellent knack for creating song titles, Magnus Öström can claim even further credit for his ingenuity as a drummer. His approach is to shape the contours of the music, without sacrificing the need for consistent groove. The gravity of his trancelike playing helps give the trio a punch and fullness that in turn allows Svensson and Berglund to dig further into their own improvisations. This song, with its minimalist repetitions, also has more typical pop progressions with some added twists. Listen to the use of effects and layering from Svensson's piano, creating an opaque wash of sound.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Where We Used To Live

Tuesday Wonderland is a concept album, and was first conceived as a collection of preludes and fugues for a jazz trio. As the music developed in rehearsal, it evolved out of its initial inspiration from J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier to be a more diverse exploration of various flavors. Here, the trio takes another page from the Bill Evans style, with a murkiness and looseness in their own interpretation.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Goldwrap

A gorgeous and uplifting journey through the collective mind of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio! The cycles of changing frequency coming from the drum set effects pedals fit the melody perfectly. The playing here is as relaxed and full as it gets, while maintaining a characteristic churning movement from the piano arpeggios. Svensson's inspiration from Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier is no longer apparent. There is a uniqueness in this man's music that shines on.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Viktoria Tolstoy: The Morning of You

In keeping with his training as a pop and R&B tunesmith, Esbjörn Svensson wrote this song to have a soulful groove and a more pop-influenced hook, on which Viktoria Tolstoy's powerful voice soars. Adding to her poise and comfort delivering the vocals is dexterity in the short guitar solo by Wakenius. The background vamp is accentuated by Jacob Karlzon's distinctive power at the piano.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: The Unstable Table and the Infamous Fable

A rolling sea of arpeggios coming from the piano lays a bed for the elegiac melody. The subsequent bass solo is vocal-inflected and thunderous, something Berglund has come to be known for. Drums and bass lay out while Svensson delves further into a free territory of elegance and purity, harkening back to the pianist's admiration for Keith Jarrett's earlier solo work. This song has moments of relaxation, followed by an energizing push to the finishing coda.

July 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Tide of Trepidation

First in a series of concept albums, Viaticum blends musical adventures and humanistic ideals. The title is a Latin word meaning provisions for a journey, and in Catholicism denotes the premortem Eucharist. In this case, Esbjörn Svensson articulates his belief that music is spiritual nourishment for people from all walks of life. "Tide of Trepidation" has bawdiness in its groove, yet conveys a somber, inward-looking sentiment.

July 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Viktoria Tolstoy: Dialogue

There is warmth to this pretty ballad duet written by Esbjörn Svensson. The clear-voiced Tolstoy and the raspier-toned Landgren have a kinship that is immediately felt in the performance. During his early career, Svensson left the jazz community to work as a freelance pop songwriter and synth player for groups appearing on Swedish television. This one has some of the accessibility and, dare I say, catchiness that aren't found in much of the music written for the instrumental adventures of e.s.t.

July 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: When God Created the Coffeebreak

An off-kilter left-hand bassline that is doubled by Dan Berglund shows off the skills of these instrumental experts in one of the few straight-up classical references in this album. Svensson himself was criticized for not being a virtuoso at times, but he understood the value of studying Bach just like Bill Evans did. In fact, the link is closer than one might think due to Svensson's trio gaining a wealth of knowledge in their early days by "trying to play in the sound of Bill Evans," which meant not to copy the style, but the mood of tunes such as "Nardis" and "'Round Midnight."

July 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nils Landgren & Esbjörn Svensson: Höpsi

This traditional folk song is not as eclectic a choice as many jazz fans might think. To be honest, Swedish musicians play folk music more now than ever before. Many people link Esbjörn Svensson to one of the creators of this trend, Swedish pianist Jan Johansson (1931-1968), due to the fact that both had tragically short lives whose impact will live on indefinitely.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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Esbjörn Svensson Trio: Dodge the Dodo

With a prepared piano, Svensson delivers the rollicking melody, doubled by Berglund's arco bass. An effects pedal evokes the influence of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in Berglund's own pushing solo. Then there is a departure into another dimension as Svensson draws upon Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert of solo improvisations to great result. Never a fan of transcribing licks, Svensson here details his own approach to playing within the mood or flavor of a jazz master, while not being a copier. Jarrett himself told Japanese concert promoter Toshinari Koinuma to book e.s.t. in 2002, and that's a cat who only a few years ago said in a Down Beat interview that no one was doing anything original anymore.

July 24, 2008 · 0 comments

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