Scandinavian Guitars

NORDIC JAZZ SCENE: SWEDISH AND DANISH GUITARS  

by Eric K. Williams

(New York) — The Nordic Jazz scene continues to grow and evolve, with the emergence of talented musicians covering all of the bases in production and instrumentation. As the Fall season formally kicks-in, so too, do new CD recordings and performances inNew Yorkand, on the East Coast. Efforts by such organizations like NORDIC JAZZ NOW also help to further publicize the music from this part of Europe.

The music of Swedish Jazz guitarist, Andreas Pettersson, has been heard on several local college radio stations this season in the New York area. His latest CD, GULLIN ON GUITAR, is making the rounds and, was spotted at a number of specialty shops in Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and in New York. Recorded in late 2004 and, released in Europe in 2005, it is only now becoming available on this side of the Atlantic.

Pettersson’s CD is a tour de force that shows his virtuosity on his instrument, and range. His is playing is clean, even crystal clear.  He is joined on this outing by Pianist, Daniel Karlson, Hans Beckenroth on Bass and, Joakin Ekberg on Drums. The nine tracks are the music of Sweden’s legendary Baritone Sax player, Lars Gullin. This CD is Pettersson’s own guitar arrangements of Gullin’s work and, for those not familiar with Gullin’s dozen-odd albums of years past, this is a great place to start.

Lars Gunnar Victor Gullin was an important voice on the Swedish Jazz scene up until his death in 1976. He was born on the Swedish island of Gotland, in the town of Sanda. He was a multi-talented musician who also played clarinet, accordion, and piano yet, he is best known as a baritone saxophone player who played the so-called ‘cool school’ of  Jazz, popular in the United States in the 1940’s and ‘50’s.

Gullin in his day was compared to Gerry Mulligan, rather than Charlie ‘Yard Byrd’ Parker. Yet, he had a unique sound influenced largely by Swedish folk music. American musicians such as James Moody, Zoot Sims and, the legendary trumpet player, Clifford Brown had all played with Gullin during visits to Sweden. Gullin, who died of a heart attack in 1976, may be even larger today, than ever. The film Sven Klangs kvintett (1976) (aka, Sven Klang’s Combo) is a fictionalized version of the Swedish Jazz scene of the 1950’s. Critics of the film say that one character in the movie, the saxophonist named  Lars, is based on Gullin. The work of Pettersson on this CD is part of the growing interest in the saxophonist’s works.

Here on Pettersson’s CD, the range of Gullin’s work opens with the track PORTRAIT OF MY PALS. This track is a fresh sound very much in tune with contemporary ‘straight ahead’ Jazz sounds. DANNY’S DREAM / GAMBLE VALU is part of a special arrangement by Pettersson of a traditional Swedish folk song.

That song and others, like FEDJA, MERLIN and SILHOUETTE represents Gullin’s better known compositions. Pettersson keeps it interesting and allows the audience a peek into the work of Gullin.

The Jon Hemmersam / Dom Minasi Quartet is a new CD on these shores, that pushes the envelope of what some might call New Jazz. Both men are band leaders in their own right and, it is the first time the two have ever worked together on a project.

This brand new and collaborative work was released in the middle of the summer and, has yet to hit the record shelves. At press time, the publicity engine to get the word out about this work, was just beginning to rev up. In short, it is a bold and daring attempt of taking Jazz in a new direction and, it is not for the faint of heart.

The CD was recorded and mastered in Brooklyn, New York and mixed in Odense,Denmark. In that sense, it is just part of the American-Danish connection in this adventuresome work. And the word ‘adventuresome’ on this CD fits like a glove. What one hears is a LIVE studio recording, with musicians letting out shouts of approval following solos and difficult riffs.

This work is in stark contrast to that of Andreas Pettersson, who plays a more ‘traditional’ sound to what takes place here. Yet, Jazz is not a museum piece but, rather, a living music that continues to evolve.

Denmark’s Jon Hemmersam and New York-based, Dom Minasi, get into a spirited but, fun, clash of the guitar. Minasi plays the electric and 12-string acoustic guitar. While Hemmersam plays the Spanish as well as electric guitar. Both men are joined by Ken Filiana on Double Bass and, Kresten Osgood, on drums.

SPIRIT, track one of this 10-track program, is aptly named. It is a fast, high energy and multi-layered song that provides a window for what lies ahead. This track could be jolting to the ear for those not ready, or familiar, with the work of either performer. Yet, the CD also provides the listener with a few surprises.

Track Four, WOMAN, is one such surprise with its soft melody and tone. While many of the tracks will jolt the listener out their seat, with each guitarist trying to out-do the other with adventuresome leads and riffs, here, the program takes another direction. Other tracks in this vein are NATHALIA’S WALTZ, BIRTH and SEPTEMBER.

SOUND-CHECK is another track where the two guitarists again take off. It is like listening to a band doing, well, a sound check. That is, getting ready, checking the volume, and going over how it will work out before they deliver their sound before a live performance. Fun among performers. What is clear on this CD is that the project was a bold move by both guitarists who have long admired the work of the other.

Hemmersam has worked as a guitarist, performer, composer and educator in the Jazz-Fusion genre on the Danish Jazz scene stretching over 20 years.  Dom Minasi has been at his craft for over 30 years. He has written books about Jazz theory, written music for off-Broadway plays, and taught guitar and music to scores of students in the New York area. Each musician penned half of the tunes heard here.

All four musicians solo on two of the ten tracks offering the listener a glimpse of the talent at hand. Will these two musicians work together again? That is hard to say. What you get is a lot of surprises and a POWER quartet led by two remarkable musicians that is difficult to duplicate and, maybe impossible to replicate.

Information on the CDs reviewed with samples of the tracks:

http://www.jonhemmersam.dk/
http://www.domminasi.com/

The Lars Gullin Society website:
http://www.gullin.net/nyintro.htm

http://www.dragonrecords.se

Andreas Pettersson information:
Byrdland Musik Produktion
Skovelvagen 15, 125 33 Alvsjo
Sweden
Tele: 011-46-8-18-37-81