Three Swedish Tenors

The 250 listeners of a certain age who filled Per Helsas gård on Friday got what they came for—reassurance that solid mainstream jazz is alive and well in Sweden. The courtyard surrounded by venerable half-timbered buildings rang with the brawny music of three of the country’s best-known tenor saxophonists, Nisse Sandström, Krister Andersson and Bernt Rosengren (left to right in the second photo). Framed by walnut and pear trees as clouds drifted and birds swooped chirping in brilliant sunshine, the trio of saxophonists justified their billing as “Swedish Tenor Kings.” Their repertoire was a stockpile of standard songs and jazz originals long favored by modern traditionalists, from the riffs of “Blues Up and Down” and “Lester Leaps In” to ballads including Thelonious Monk’s “Ask Me Now” and Cole Porter’s “You Do Something To Me.” Andersson, featured on the Monk piece, soloed with respect for not only the angular beauty of the melody but also the harmonic structure’s invitation to quirky individuality.

When Charlie Parker recorded Miles Davis’s “Sippin’ at Bells” on tenor saxophone rather than his customary alto, he inspired a generation of young tenor players, including Sonny Rollins. That part of the tenor tradition was on display in the Per Helsas gård version of the tune, notably so in the tenors’ exchanges with the Danish drummer Aage Tanggaard. The rhythm team of Tanggaard, his fellow Dane pianist Ole Kock Hansen and the Swedish bassist Hans Backenroth were impressive in solo as well as in support. Hansen’s choruses on John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” were a highlight of the session. A straightforward stylist whose solos communicate assurance, Rosengren’s de facto leadership was evident as he set a “Lester Leaps” riff with Tanggaard. The drummer’s nearly constant smile seemed a metaphor for the group’s pleasure at working together. In addition to his fine soloing, Sandström contributed as a genial and informative master of ceremonies.

When they want more, European audiences set up rhythmic clapping, an unyielding insistence that brooks no resistance. It brought the band back for an encore, “Just Friends.” Following a round of testicular solos, the piece and the concert ended with an extended tag ending of simultaneous improvisation by the three tenors. It was the most adventurous collective playing of a satisfying set.

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