As the schedule attests, Sweden’s Ystad Jazz Festival is programmed tightly. Over a quick lunch, Iouri Lnogradski of the Russian magazine Jazz.Ru observed that it would be technically possible for a listener to attend everything, but at the price of exhaustion. Rather than sprint from site to site sampling, one must choose. Here are reflections on two events.
Thursday evening, Eliane Elias and her quartet illuminated the Ystad Theater with performances of modern music of her native Brazil and the jazz of the United States, her alternate home for the past three decades. Elias exhibited the seamless style in which she has developed as a superb pianist in the Bud Powell tradition who also sings expressively. With her husband Marc Johnson on bass, guitarist Rubens de La Corte and the propulsive Brazilian drummer Rafael Barata, she opened with a Gilberto Gil song whose title I may have misheard as “Lachada de Bacisa.” Title aside, the vitality of the set opener put the capacity audience in her corner. Elias further endeared herself to them a few bars into “Isto Aqui O Que È” when she raised her hand, halted the band and said, “Let’s start over. Too fast.” Satisfied with the new tempo, she and the quartet demonstrated the rhythmic unity that has made them one of the tightest working bands of the day.
Both facets of Elias’s talent shone in “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Her unaccompanied piano introduction, at once rhapsodic and rhythmically insinuating, led into a vocal in English etched with a trace of what remains of her Brazilian accent. The quartet gave the piece a tag ending that flirted in passing with “The Girl From Ipanema” and highlighted the subtle connection among the rhythm section, particularly between Johnson and Bata. The leader gave “So Danco Samba” a solo opening—long and laced with chord treatments reminiscent of Powell—that set up a fast quartet performance. No hand went up this time. Grins and exchanges of glances made it clear that this was the right tempo. A highlight of the set was the title tune of Elias’s current album, “Light My Fire,” combined in a medley with her composition “Incendiado.” She was taking us, she said, from a request for combustion to full involvement.
The late concert Thursday brought together Swedish trumpeter Anders Bergcrantz with American tenor saxophonist Billy Harper and drummer Victor Lewis in an international power quintet that also included Bergcrantz’s fellow Swedes Robert Tjäderkvist and bassist Mattias Swensson. The temporary Ystad night watchman (see the previous item), Bergrantz left his nocturnal assurances on the tower of St. Mary’s Church and led the band through more than two hours of music guaranteed not to let even the most jet-lagged listener doze off.
Bergcrantz had played with Lewis and with Harper, but the three had not worked together until the Ystad festival. In the backgrounds of the two Americans veterans are bands led by Stan Getz, Gil Evans, Woody Shaw, Thad Jones-Mel Lewis, Carla Bley, Jessica Williams, Max Roach and Randy Weston, among many others. In addition to a panoply of European stars, Bergcrantz has performed with Richie Beirach, Russell Malone and the Lionel Hampton All Star Big Band. He and Beirach are featured soloists in Iphigenia, a new work by his wife, the composer Anna-Lena Laurin. In a conversation the afternoon of the performance, Bergcrantz, Harper and Lewis remarked on the single-mindedness they discovered in rehearsal. They talked about sharing a desire to make what Lewis called “emoting music” and writing new compositions that would help achieve a dialogue.
In the event, again at the Ystad Theater, they reached their goal, and then some. Lewis and Swensson hooked up in the kind of symbiosis that drummers and bassists hope for, creating with Tjäderkvist carpets of rhythm and waves of momentum on which Bergcrantz and Harper rode in extended solos. The energy and muscle were reminiscent of collaborations in bands like Shaw’s, Freddie Hubbard’s and Art Blakeys. Among the highlights: Lewis’s thunderous opening drum announcement of his “Seventh Avenue,” subsiding to a flurry of sticks on rims before a transition to the drum heads; Bergcrantz’s ballad “Fountain of Youth” with its repetition of one note setting up a beguiling melody and the dramatic spontaneous joint solo of Lewis and Swensson; Bergcrantz’s spacious tone throughout, regardless of speed or range, and his and Harper’s force in solo. If there was a shortcoming, it might have been the cumulative effect of concentrated intensity. On the way out, I overheard a listener say, “Man, that was too much music.” Well, consider the alternative.
More later about music heard and that to come.