Joy In An Ancient Ystad Church
Swedish bassist Hans Backenroth and Danish guitarist Jacob Fischer played in the 11th century Klosterkyrkan, not far from Ystad’s center. Among the most experienced European jazz artists, they found ways of dealing with the acoustical challenge created by the church’s recesses and stone surfaces, famous for causing sound delays of as much as six seconds. Indeed, they made the phenomenon work for them. The resonating effect was enchanting when Backenroth bowed his bass, as he did on “Look For The Silver Lining.” Their first piece, whose title was not announced, had harmonic progressions reminiscent of classic bebop tunes like “Confirmation.”
The duo’s repertoire included “Crazy He Calls Me,” a song forever connected with Billie Holiday, especially when it’s played with the swing feeling Backenroth and Fischer gave it. Following their statement of the theme, they took “Summertime” at a lively waltz tempo , then into lively waltz time and into straight 4/4. Fischer used his guitar’s body to make it sound as if a bongo player had materialized. An enchanting medley of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “A Felicidade” and Fischer’s “Latino” set off the rhythmic unison clapping which, in Europe, means that the audience demands an encore. Backenroth and Fischer responded with trumpeter Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring.” It is a harmonically demanding piece that has accumulated velocity over the decades and is often taken at barn-burner tempos as a cutting-contest battleground. Not this time. They made “Joy Spring” slow and rhythmic. In a solo that had a little funk and a lot of heart, Fischer emphasized the tune’s innate lyricism.
Oskar Stenmark & Piatruba
One reason I looked forward to this year’s edition of the Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival was that it would be an the opportunity to hear members of the new generation of musicians springing up on the continent. The young flugelhornist Oskar Stenmark and his colleagues are among them. Rained out of their intended outdoor performance space, they and their audience took refuge in Scala, the venerable downtown Ystad cinema. Stenmark, pianist Robin Skarin and bassist Linus Fredin specialize in—according to the festival program —…”Sweden’s rich folk tradition.”— After three years in New York City, Stenmark said that he’s back in Sweden to “keep contacts.” He is staying close to, among others, his large extended family in Dalarna in the mountains north of Stockholm, near the Norwegian border. He and his father are so close that the senior Stenmark, seen here on the right, sat in as a hand drummer on two tunes.
Some of the folk music Stenmark played in Ystad has been in his family for ten generations. Yet, his improvising is thoroughly modern, perhaps disclosing the influence of the flugelhorn and trumpet master Art Farmer but also incorporating the element in Swedish music that pianist Jan Lundgren has identified as between sadness and happiness. That quality was evident in “Day of the Bride,” a folk song about a bridal couple who drowned on their wedding day. In balance, the trio played a wedding celebration song, used in Stenmark’s ancestral region to accompany the carrying of the bride around the room. A piece that Stenmark introduced as a “walking tune” featured a Fredin bass solo that was slow and firm, ending with a piano solo over the flugelhorn’s whole notes for a hymn-like ending. What Stenmark described as “a calling tune, a horn song,” featured Fredin’s bowed bass. Through all of this music based in Swedish country arcania, Stenmark, Skarin and Fredin improvised with modern uses of harmony. Their music is at once nostalgic and thoroughly up to date or, as I heard an audience member say, “So old, so hip”.