More from the Ystad, Sweden, Jazz Festival, as the week wound down.
Benny Green’s Ystad Theater concert previewed music the pianist is preparing for his next record. His trio played some of Green’s new pieces for the first time, giving the set an air of discovery and, occasionally, of a rehearsal. A few seconds into a fast tune titled “Flying Saucer,” Green declared a false start, called a halt, counted off a new tempo and started over. Following the opening melody chorus he got fully into the performance, legs angling away from the piano to the right, upper body leaning to his left, cranking up the swing, grinning at bassist Ben Wolfe and drummer Rodney Green. Among Green’s new compositions, the lively “Cactus Flower” and “Priestess,” a ballad, have the potential to become standards.
A contingent of young listeners toward the front of the theater seemed transfixed by Green, who is 49 but, even with the beard he has sported lately, looks at least 15 years younger. The pianist’s technique is formidable. He could probably execute Hiromi-style pyrotechnics, but in the tradition of his bebop forbears his focus at any speed is on the development of narrative lines. One of his heroes was Sonny Clark, whose name Green made the title of a new tune. Taking the piece at a fast clip, he captured Clark’s essence in the melody and in his improvisation. Rodney Green soloed using wire brushes at blazing speed.
Coming out of Wolfe’s solo on “The Asphalt Shuffle”, all of the players laughed, evidently at something he played. It was not the only time during the concert that the three reacted to inside information. It happened during “Golden Flamingo” with its powerful Ben Wolfe solo. The trio’s camaraderie seemed to draw the audience in.
CHINA MOSES AND IKIZ
The singer China Moses appeared with Ikiz, a Swedish quintet led by Robert Ikiz, a drummer born in Turkey whose music education was at the Swedish Royal Academy. Moses, the daughter of Dee Dee Bridgewater, sings with enthusiasm reminiscent of her mother, blues phrasing and audacity inspired by Dinah Washington and an easy relationship with the band and her audience. At the Ystad Saltsjöbad concert, Moses shared billing and attention with the Ikiz group, which included impressive soloists in trumpeter Carl Olandersson and tenor saxophonist Karl-Martin Almqvist.
DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER
Almqvist is also a featured soloist with the powerful Norrbotten Big Band from the north of Sweden, which backed Bridgewater in her Billie Holiday tribute at the Ystad Theater. For background on Bridgewater’s “To Billie With Love” project, see this Rifftides review of her appearance at this year’s Portland Jazz Festival. In Portland, working with her quartet, she achieved intimacy and spontaneity. In Ystad, riding on the power of the big band, she reflected more of the Holiday who sang with the Count Basie and Artie Shaw bands than the subtle singer who bonded with Lester Young in the famous Okeh combo recordings. In any case, Bridgewater’s aim is not to imitate her idol but to honor her in a program of pieces associated with Holiday. And so she did, from the opening “Lady Sings the Blues” through a dozen of Holiday’s signature songs.
With arrangements by her former husband Cecil Bridgewater and Norrbotten leader Hâkan Broström, she was particularly effective when she related directly to the band’s soloists. With the rest of the band sitting out, Bridgewater and bassist Martin Sjöstedt collaborated on Holiday’s first hit, “My Mother’s Son-in-law,” interacting and trading phrases to the amusement of one another and the audience. In “A Foggy Day,” it was a tossup as to which solo was more musical, Bridgewater’s scatting or Dan Johansson’s on flugelhorn. “You’ve Changed,” taken at just the right languid tempo, had a splendid Almqvist tenor solo and a Bridgewater ending that was much more Sarah Vaughan than Holiday. Other notable solos came from Broström on alto saxophone and trombonist Peter Dahlgren. “Fine and Mellow” picked up steam as it progressed and ended with a Bridgewater vocalese lick in unison with the band, a thrilling moment. After “Them There Eyes,” and roses presented to all hands, the capacity crowd called for an encore and got “All of Me,” the Norrbottens genuinely digging Dee Dee’s scat solo.
(All photos by Lars Grönwall)