Compact and organized, the Ystad Jazz Festival is nonetheless too loaded with music for anyone to be able to hear more than a generous sampling. Here are a few samples.
Ystad artistic director Jan Lundgren introduced the group as The Claire Martin Band. Whether or not that is their official name, it makes sense. Martin is the leader, but it is apparent that pianist Gareth Williams, bassist Laurence Cottle and drummer Kristian Leith regard her as more than—you should pardon the non-PC expression—a chick singer with a rhythm section. From the “Killer Joe” intro of “Be Sure You Can Get Back Out” to the fast “But Not For Me” encore with its “Sonnymoon For Two” riff, Martin functioned as if she were an instrumental performer. Not that she scatted more than incidentally, but the rhythmic and tonal qualities of her performance had spirit and band interconnectivity more common to horn players than to singers.
Martin handled the altered rhythm, melody and chord changes of “Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You” with easy command of the difficulties the arrangement presented. She applied the same performance concentration to pieces by Esbjörn Svensson, Michael Franks and The Doors as to classics by Cole Porter, Johnny Mandel and Jimmy Van Heusen. Notably in control of her deep register to color the meaning of lyrics, Martin interpreted Johnny Mercer’s words to “I Thought About You” as poetic expression. Cottle, an electric bassist who brings acoustic qualities to the instrument, followed in solo with intriguing lines on the chords of the piece.
When it is their sidemens’ turn to create, musician-singers pay attention, which encourages the audience to do the same. In Joshua Redman’s “Lower Case,” Martin concluded her initial chorus and turned to Williams (pictured), listening intently during his improvisation. The Welsh pianist is a soloist of considerable accomplishment, but on this afternoon, the rhythmic and chordal inventiveness of his comping for Martin was his greater attribute. Leth, a Danish drummer, had an intriguing skin-on-skins hand drumming solo on the rumba rhythm of “Too Much in Love to Care.” In a tribute to Shirley Horn, whom she credited as an early inspiration, Martin sang “He Never Mentioned Love” with the air of wistful regret that Horn also gave the Curtis Lewis song.
One aspect of Martin’s performance that is not directly musical enhances her music; she uses her eyes in ways that underline the messages of her songs. Employed to excess, the effects of facial expression would be annoying, but they seem to be attributes of a natural actress and add subtle meaning to her art.
This festival holds concerts not only in the grand old theater downtown, but also in restaurants and clubs in several precincts of Ystad. Guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel and his Standards Trio played in a central area of the luxurious Saltsjöbad hotel that overlooks the town’s long white sand beach. Rosenwinkel, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Jeff Ballard performed for an audience filled with young listeners attracted by the group’s growing popularity. Opening with Clifford Brown’s blues “Sandu,” they worked through a set of standards, as billed, but mostly jazz standards. “At Long Last Love” was the only one from the Great American Songbook. In it, Rosenwinkel reeled out chorus after chorus, the trio’s empathy and time growing tighter as his inventiveness intensified.
Rosenwinkel launched Charles Mingus’s memorial to Lester Young, “Goodbye, Porkpie Hat,” with an unaccompanied introduction followed by a long solo that developed into a sustained vamp on a single chord to the end. Ballard transfixed the listeners with a kaleidoscopic solo on Joe Henderson’s “Serenity.” Okwego’s dancing, lunging bass line energized the trio in Clare Fischer’s “Pensativa.” A master of the abstracted beginning, Rosenwinkel slowly worked his way alone into Horace Silver’s “Peace.” He concentrated the time feeling through several choruses before Okegwo and Ballard joined him. Ballard supported Okegwo’s solo with a filagree of brushwork and cymbal embellishments that had the two smiling like schoolboys getting away with something. Rosenwinkel took the piece out alone, coloring it with more of his abstract chords.
The encore was a heated version of Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels,” highlighted by an exchange of four-bar phrases executed by Ballard and Okegwo in an exhibition of time-play that had one member of the audience laughing out loud.
Oh —— that was me.