A Mixed Bag of Swedish Jazz Makers
By Eric K.Williams
New York – As is often the case with a ‘Best of’ or, a ‘Greatest Hits’ package of various artists or, primers of a certain genre of music, the results can be at times uneven, with so much to offer. Such is the case here in this latest collection package of various and, contemporary Swedish Jazz Artists. CONTEMPORARY SWEDISH JAZZ 2007 is a mixed bag of musicians plying their craft in varying styles.
Big Band, Female Vocalists, Trios and Quartets and, Avante Garde styles all on one program can be jolting to the senses. This musical collection goes from the mellow to the booming from track to track. Like a salad bowl or, even a smorgasbord of sounds, this program has many surprises.
A Two-CD set featuring 25 separate tracks of already known and, not-so-well known, artist on the Swedish Jazz scene and, it gives the listener a broader peek into just what that scene is all about. This assessment by this reviewer is not so much a look at how the program was assembled but, the placement of the artists from opening track to the final song.
My list of performances of note include……
The Magnus Lindgren Quartet, heard playing their song, BLUE STAR on Disk Two, is one Nordic Jazz group that made the journey over, to perform before a North American audience this year. While Lina Nyberg’s soft vocals on track two of Disk One, Madalena, are lovely and, largely unknown to Jazz enthusiasts on these shores, one would have to ask why the selection of this track? Nyberg recorded four earlier CDs and, thus, has a larger repertoire of songs and performances available,that would have done her better justice that what is offered here.
The song, LOCHIEL’S WARNING by the Peter Asplund Quartet sounds like a 1980’s-era Miles Davis riff, or even a rip-off, from beginning to end. With the sound of the muted trumpet fluttering to the rhythm, the influence of Davis is unmistakable. Asplund’s band is another superb Swedish group who made it over to North American shores this year. With his LIVE performance at New York’s Scandinavia House in June, the Davis influence was not apparent, this song was omitted and, his sound was fresh and original. Asplund is too talented a composer and musician to get caught into the, “well, he sounds like Miles,” sort of trap. Willy nilly, this is the sort of ‘box’ many Jazz critics will place on Asplund with the selection of this track here.
HITMAN, by the Jonas Kullhammer Quartet, is pure ‘straight-ahead’ Jazz, taking one to a Greenwich Village café. It is a fun and lively track with a lusty Saxophone, grabbing you around by the neck and, its melodic piano riffs forms part of the song theme which sometimes clashes with drum and sax riffs that demands attention. It is a friendly clash of musical ideas that leaves the listener wanting more.
STONER, the opening track on Disk one by Oscar Schonning is a jolting and abstract song. As such, a curious beginning for a program essentially introducing the uninformed to the showcase, which makes one wonder why the producers would have this composition placed as ‘the lead-off?’ The next dozen tracks that follow have no relation to the Schonning composition at all.
Disk Two opens with a lovely composition by the Bobo Stensen Trio called, GOODBYE, from the CD of the same name. Stensen’s collaborative work with several Jazz Masters on the Nordic scene has been reported in this magazine in recent issues. Here again, his mastery of the keyboards and his melodic touch continues to please the ear.It is clear why Stensen is a musician in high demand.
In short, Disk Two contains superior performances and should have been flipped-flopped with the opening program as the performances there are considerable weaker than disk two. The second disk could have been a stand alone program featuring perhaps, just instrumentalists. The aforementioned BLUE STAR, Jonas Knutsson’s THE KANGEROO WOMEN, Lars Jansson trio’s LATOUR and Fabian Kallerdahl Galore’s RAGGA-EXCERPTS are among four of the strongest tracks on the second disk.
Yet, there are a number of fine vocalists featured among the artists on this two-disk showcase. VIKTORIA TOLSTOY, RIGMOR GUSTAFSSON and LINA NYBERG, who is featured on disk one, are all extremely talented singers. Tolstoy’s composition, SOUTH, is a particularly moving and colorful song featured here. She will be one Nordic vocalist to watch in the coming months and years.
Yet, even with the strong performances by all of the above vocalists, one thought becomes sadly apparent. The search for the next female Swedish Jazz vocalist with broad range and coloring continues, following the tragic death of Monika Zetterlund in 2005. Zetterlund was a giant among her peers and contemporaries and, her passing has left an equally giant void among Swedish Jazz singers. There will never be another like her. One would have to ask the producers why didn’t they merely cluster the vocalists featured here on consecutive tracks, rather than spread them out, on this two disk program?
Swedish Jazz vocalists, especially the women on the scene, are just as important as other vocalists and, instrumentalists anywhere. Their contribution is an important cog that helps to push all musical movements and, perhaps, the producers of this program may want to consider a showcase CD of just contemporary Jazz vocalists in the future.
Like any GREATEST HITS presentation there are bound to be peaks and valleys along the way. Again, such is the case with this CD program. Yet, for those who want an even wider glimpse into the current Jazz scene in Sweden, this two CD set is recommended. It is important to note that: Unevenness in this collection does not suggest a weakness, or even a thinning of available talent among Swedish Jazz artists. Some tracks may light your fire while others may not move you at all. Those featured here come from a variety of Scandinavian record labels and, the information on this disk makes them accessible for further review.
RUNNING THOUGHTS by the Tolvan Big Big closes the program on a high note and, warms the sense as both the year-end holiday and Winter season moves in.
Further information about the CD can be found on-line at: www.capricerecords.se
About the Writer: Eric K. Williams is a staff reporter for Den Danske Pioneer and, is also heard daily on Pacifica Radio’s WBAI-FM Evening News program in New York City.