The light response stimulated by the news of Bengt Hallberg’s death was puzzling. Go here for the Rifftides post about the great Swedish pianist. In his later years, Hallberg used restraint and conservatism that sometimes disappointed listeners who became devoted to him for his refined bebop sensibility of the 1950s. Nonetheless, he never played with less than intriguing harmonic ingenuity and the rhythmic flow that distinguished his work from the beginning. Those unfamiliar with Hallberg’s work will find revelations in volume 7 of Svensk Jazzhistoria, Caprice Records’ massive survey of Swedish jazz from 1943 to 1969. In a 2001 Jazz Times review, I wrote about Hallberg’s work in the album.
Eleven of the album’s 65 tracks feature Hallberg as leader, arranger or sideman and together constitute perhaps the most complete disclosure under one cover of the extent of his talent. A pianist admired in Europe and the US for his fluency, touch and harmonic acuity, he wrote music with the same sense of discovery that he brought to his solos. His 1953 concert recording of “All the Things You Are” shows how completely Hallberg understood and absorbed postwar jazz developments and blended them into the cool classicism of his piano style. His 1954 “Blue Grapes,” for an octet, is a meld of blues sonorities, folk harmonies and a stately, almost baroque, sense of calm.
Further surprises and satisfactions concerning Hallberg meet our eyes and ears in video of a 1967 rehearsal for an NDR (North German Broadcasting) Jazzworkshop concert. The band is the cream of the Swedish jazz community of the day: Bosse Broberg, trumpet; Palle Mikkelborg (Danish), trumpet & fluegelhorn; Ake Persson, trombone; Lennart Aberg, tenor sax; Arne Domnérus, alto sax; Erik Nilsson, baritone sax; Rune Gustafson, guitar; Bengt Hallberg, piano; Georg Riedel, bass; Egil Johannsen, drums.
The pieces they play are, in this order, “Gubben und Källinge” (Riedel); ‘Vals” (Hallberg); “Ad Libitum” (Riedel); “Refrain” (Hallberg); “Hanid,” which is the 1925 hit “Dinah” (Axt, Lewis, Young) spelled backward; and “Django” (John Lewis). In the last two pieces, Hallberg gives full rein to his arranging craftsmanship and imagination. At the keyboard, he frees his inner Cecil Taylor. It is not our custom to embed long videos, but this was irresistible. If you understand Swedish, that’s all to the good, but you won’t need it to get the drift of the music and musicianship of Bengt Hallberg and his friends.