Bengt Hallberg And Friends

Bengt Hallberg smiling rightThe 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 togetherSvensk JH Vol. 7 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.

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  1. Mike Harris says

    I do remember, when listening to late-night jazz on the radio back in the 40′ and 50’s, taking note of some very interesting piano playing by Bengt Hallberg, and thinking that maybe the Swedes were getting somewhat ahead of us on that front. It’s nice to hear some more of him here.

  2. mel says

    Thank you for this YouTube video; I’m looking forward to watching and hearing it later.

    Surprisingly, the only report in English that I have found anywhere about Bengt Hallberg’s passing was yours.

    Not one of the international newspapers has published an obituary; the only ones I’ve found are in the Swedish language.

  3. Peter Bergmann says

    Don’t worry, Doug, about the light response stimulated by the news of Bengt Hallberg’s death, it’s summer, people are out of town, on vacation, neglecting the Internet, whatever.

    Bengt was one of a kind. If memory doesn’t fool me I listened to him accompanying the norwegian singer Karin Krog at an Oslo-Jazzclub several times in the early 70’s. Bengt Hallberg was a gentleman,a gentle man and a wonderful musician. Great video from the NDR-workshop in 1967, thank you.

    The drummer Egil Johansen was norwegian, he worked for most of his professional life in Sweden.

  4. David says

    Wow, I had no idea back in ‘67 that anything like this was going on in Sweden. Bengt is quite a chameleon at the piano. It was funny seeing that “inner Cecil Taylor” suddenly erupt from his placid, studious demeanor. Especially impressive was the section from 33:20 – 33:44 where he plays some spectacular octave lines that climax by moving into tenths.