Packed to capacity, the 11th century Saint Mary’s Church in the center of Ystad hosted a magnificent performance of music from Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts. A citizen who lives nearby told me, “There are more people in this church than there were on Christmas Eve.” Eva Ekdahl conducted her 34-voice Stockholm choir and eight instrumentalists in her husband Anders’ adaptation of Ellington’s work.
From the first bars of “Ain’t But The One,” it was evident that the performers grasped not only the religious conviction that Ellington put into his religious pieces but also the essence of swing that is crucial to their effective interpretation. Helen Larsson, a soprano of astonishing flexibility and accuracy, sang solos that Ellington wrote for his friend the great Swedish singer Alice Babs. The members of the four-man horn section were faithful to the styles of stars of the Ellington band who graced the music’s original performances. Patrik Skogh’s plunger-mute trumpet solos and alto saxophonist Pär Gerbacken’s evocations of Johnny Hodges were notably effective. Baritone saxophonist Victor Sand recalled Harry Carney, trombonist Åke Lännerholm Lawrence Brown. When the concert ended, bassist Anders Johnsson and drummer Per Ekdahl exchanged wide grins and a hearty handclasp that symbolized the good feeling permeating musicians and audience in the ancient church.
A footnote: Among its other fine qualities, the performance was a family affair; drummer Per and guitarist Bo Klum Ekdahl are the sons of conductor Eva and pianist-arranger Anders Ekdahl.
(Photos: Markus Fagersten)