It has been two weeks since I returned from Europe, but the Ystad Jazz Festival is still on my mind. It was impossible to hear all of the young Swedish musicians who played at the festival and there was not enough space in my Wall Street Journal report to cover all those I did hear. Here are thoughts about some whose names you may want to remember; their talent and potential staying power could make them known well beyond Scandinavia.
Norwegian electric bassist Anne Marte Eggen led the quartet she calls We Float in pieces that often paired singer Linda Bergtröm’s voice and Fanny Gunnarsson’s piano in crisp unison lines. Ms. Eggen’s and drummer Flip Bensefelt’s propulsive swing compensated for English lyrics that might have reduced some of the songs to New Age clichés. The harmonic resourcefulness of Ms. Gunnarsson’s solos was impressive with the Eggen Group, as it was later in the week with her own quartet featuring the imaginative young soprano saxophonist Karolina Almgren (pictured right), bassist Kristian Rimshult and drummer Hannes Olbers. In this group, the vocalise was by Ms. Gunnarsson in parallel with her piano, a practice heard in several young groups at the festival. The English lyrics to her original songs had a philosophical bent enhanced by melodies that incorporated something of the mournful minor-key sadness of Swedish folk music.
(Photos by Fägersten)
In the intimate confines of Scala, Sweden’s oldest cinema—established in 1910—trumpeter and vocalist Björn Ingelstam opened his concert blazing through a Kenny Dorham composition. It startled the man sitting behind me, who tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Did he say ‘Lotus Blossom? That doesn’t sound like Strayhorn.” No, it sounded like a loud, fast version of Dorham’s tune of the same name, played by a young man who had paid attention to Dorham, Clifford Brown and Tom Harrell. Singing “Almost Like Being In Love” in English, Ingelstam handled the lyric with understanding until he injected a gratuitous “Oh, Baby,” an attempt at hipness that took the edge off his interpretation. He recouped with a lovely flow of ideas in his muted trumpet solo. Following his final vocal chorus he scat-sang an effective tag ending. Ingelstam’s rangy trumpet solo on “Old Folks” included growls and slurs, touches that demonstrated his familiarity with trumpet styles that preceded bebop. Felx Tani’s lyrical piano solo was the highlight of the piece. The other members of Ingelstam’s quartet were Danes, bassist Matthias Petri and drummer Andreas Svendsen. In “I’ll Close My Eyes,” Svendsen, a listening drummer, had a series of conversational eight-bar exchanges with Ingelstam.
Isabella Lundgren and the Carl Bagge Trio performed in Ystad’s Per Helsas gård. They opened with “Ac-Cent-Tchu-ate the Positive,” Ms. Lundgren’s firm voice penetrating to the farthest corners of the vast 15th century courtyard. Johnny Mercer’s famous lyric was only the first philosophical treatise in her repertoire. A student of theology, Ms. Lundgren and Bagge composed “Eudiamonia,” inspired by Aristotle’s term for the highest human good. She also sang Bob Dylan’s paean to incompatibility “It Ain’t Me Babe,” the blues “Unlucky Woman” and her composition “There is a Time for Everything,” with the text from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. In her spoken introduction to “The Glory of Love,” she quoted Kierkegaard, possibly a first in the history of jazz concerts.
Philosophy aside, her singing is in tune, with firm rhythmic values and intonation. When she leapt to a high note several lines above the staff to end “It Ain’t Me Babe,” she nailed it with perfect accuracy. Bagge, bassist Niklas Fernqvist and drummer Daniel Fredriksson accompanied Ms. Lundgren as active partners and soloed as well as she did. Bagge made an impression with his interesting improvisation on the unusual harmonic changes of “Eudiamonia.” One of the striking aspects of the set was the extreme interest the four musicians took in one another’s work. Ms. Lundgren frequently came to rest at the front of the stage listening to Bagge as if she were memorizing what he was playing.
We have no video of the Ystad performance. Here is Ms. Lundgren in a montage from a recent concert with the Nordic Chamber Orchestra, the Bagge trio and trumpeter Peter Asplund.
Four of the festival’s events took place in Rådhusparken, a spacious downtown Ystad park edged by office buildings and apartments. We covered The Carling Big Band’s Rådhusparken concert in this report.
Singer Hannah Svensson and her frequent performing partner Flip Jers teamed up at Rådhusparken with the XL Big Band, a presence in Sweden for more than 30 years. Jers, known throughout Europe for his harmonica work, played Benny Carter’s “Only Trust Your Heart” with energetic bossa nova backing by the XL rhythm section and stirring unison with the trumpet section. Ms. Svensson applied a bit of throatiness to accent the feeling of Bob Dorough’s “Better Than Anything.” Jers responded with hard swing in his solo. The intonation problem that challenges Ms. Svensson when she increases volume was a momentary distraction in “My Foolish Heart.” There was no trace of it in “Lover Come Back to Me,” in which she made a dramatic reentry following Anders Apell’s guitar solo and she and Jers improvised a duet.
Drummer Hannes Olbers’ Rådhusparken concert featured Håkan Broström the veteran lead saxophonist of the Norrbotten Big Band. Olbers and his rhythm section companions, bassist Sebastian Nordström and pianist Sven-Erik Lundeqvist, were among the brightest of the young Swedish musicians I heard in Ystad. Nordström, here in his Johnny Cash T-shirt with Broström, is unconventional in more than his dress; his bass lines and solos quoted from country music and rock and took unexpected directions without sacrificing anything of jazz feeling or time. “In What is this Thing Called Love?” Broström’s alto saxophone tone was so full that anyone listening with eyes closed might have heard it as a tenor sax. The Olbers quartet maintained post-Coltrane intensity bordering on free jazz while retaining the romanticism of “Misty,” with its lyrical yet gutsy Broström solo.
Pianist Jan Lundgren, the Ystad festival’s artistic director, pegged John Venkiah in the festival program as, “One of the most talented young jazz musicians I encountered during my time at the Malmö Academy of Music.” In his trio concert at Scala, titled “Things Change,” the musicality of Venkiah’s singing and piano playing in his composition by that name supported Lundgren’s evaluation. This February promotional video replicates the Ystad Performance, if not quite its passion. Simon Petersson is the bassist, Kristofer Rostedt the drummer.
Like Venkiah, the young bassist Sebastian Nordström in his Johnny Cash shirt, Fanny Gunnarsson and many other contemporary Swedish jazz musicians, Caroline Leander’s influences come from a variety of genres. In her concert at Scala, some of Ms. Leander’s songs suggested Bob Dylan, some Carole King or Joni Mitchell. Her piano playing had, among other elements, the Nordic coolness of Esbjörn Svensson, the wildness of Jerry Lee Lewis’s runs up and down the keyboard, and occasionally the complexity of Brad Mehldau. She made effective use of the piano-vocalise unison that has become a part of jazz performance, and not just in Sweden. Her quartet included her longtime sidemen bassist Anders Lorentzi and drummer Bo Håkansson. Magnus Lindeberg was the guitarist. In video from a 2010 concert, the guitarist is Peter Tegnér. The piece, “Painfully Glad,” was part of her Ystad concert. In her piano solo, there is no trace of Jerry Lee Lewis.
Finally, to acknowledge the continuing vitality of Swedish musicians who are not chronologically young, here are photographs of some mentioned but not shown in the Wall Street Journal piece. The first is from a Per Helsas gård concert by the Swedish Statesmen, all in their seventies or early eighties, all still swinging.
(L to R: Nisse Engström, Gunnar Lidberg, Erik Norström, Arne Wilhelmsson, Roland Keijser, Kurt Järnberg, Ronnie Gardner, Bosse Broberg)
At the Ystad Theatre, pianists Birgit Lindberg and Monica Dominique sat at grand pianos, alternating tunes and closing with a collaboration. From the article:
When they arrived at the same improvised phrases at the end of their duet on ‘Autumn Leaves,’ the septuagenarian pair broke into girlish laughter.
Here is Ms. Lindberg with the Anders Färdal Quartet playing “Walk With Me,” a high point of her Ystad concert with Ms. Dominique. It is included in her album A Second Thought.
Profound thanks to the superb photographer Markus Fägersten for permission to use his work.
Have a good weekend.
Don Conner says
The weekend just a lot better,Doug,after viewing these four videos.Ms Lindbergs playing and singing were a positive joy. Ditto for Mr. Venkiah whose soulful performance was very touching. If this was an example of the European scene, then perhaps i’m living on the wrong continent.