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 BergtrÃ¶mâ€™s voice and Fanny Gunnarssonâ€™s piano in crisp unison lines. Ms. Eggenâ€™s and drummer Flip Bensefeltâ€™s propulsive swing compensated for English lyrics that might have reduced some of the songs to New Age clichÃ©s. The harmonic resourcefulness of Ms. Gunnarssonâ€™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 FÃ¤gersten)
In the intimate confines of Scala, Swedenâ€™s oldest cinemaâ€”established in 1910â€”trumpeter and vocalist BjÃ¶rn 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, â€œDid he say â€˜Lotus Blossom? That doesnâ€™t sound like Strayhorn.â€ No, it sounded like a loud, fast version of Dorhamâ€™s tune of the same name, played by a young man who had paid attention to Dorham, Clifford Brown and Tom Harrell. Singing â€œAlmost Like Being In Loveâ€ in English, Ingelstam handled the lyric with understanding until he injected a gratuitous â€œOh, Baby,â€ 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. Ingelstamâ€™s rangy trumpet solo on â€œOld Folksâ€ included growls and slurs, touches that demonstrated his familiarity with trumpet styles that preceded bebop. Felx Taniâ€™s lyrical piano solo was the highlight of the piece. The other members of Ingelstamâ€™s quartet were Danes, bassist Matthias Petri and drummer Andreas Svendsen. In â€œIâ€™ll Close My Eyes,â€ Svendsen, a listening drummer, had a series of conversational eight-bar exchanges with Ingelstam.
Isabella Lundgren and the Carl Bagge Trio performed in Ystadâ€™s Per Helsas gÃ¥rd. They opened with â€œAc-Cent-Tchu-ate the Positive,â€ Ms. Lundgrenâ€™s firm voice penetrating to the farthest corners of the vast 15th century courtyard. Johnny Mercerâ€™s famous lyric was only the first philosophical treatise in her repertoire. A student of theology, Ms. Lundgren and Bagge composed â€œEudiamonia,â€ inspired by Aristotleâ€™s term for the highest human good. She also sang Bob Dylanâ€™s paean to incompatibility â€œIt Ainâ€™t Me Babe,â€ the blues â€œUnlucky Womanâ€ and her composition â€œThere is a Time for Everything,â€ with the text from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. In her spoken introduction to â€œThe Glory of Love,â€ 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 â€œIt Ainâ€™t Me Babe,â€ 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 â€œEudiamonia.â€ One of the striking aspects of the set was the extreme interest the four musicians took in one anotherâ€™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 festivalâ€™s events took place in RÃ¥dhusparken, a spacious downtown Ystad park edged by office buildings and apartments. We covered The Carling Big Bandâ€™s RÃ¥dhusparken concert in this report.
Singer Hannah Svensson and her frequent performing partner Flip Jers teamed up at RÃ¥dhusparken with the XL Big Band, a presence in Sweden for more than 30 years. Jers, known throughout Europe for his harmonica work, played Benny Carterâ€™s â€œOnly Trust Your Heartâ€ 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 Doroughâ€™s â€œBetter Than Anything.â€ Jers responded with hard swing in his solo. The intonation problem that challenges Ms. Svensson when she increases volume was a momentary distraction in â€œMy Foolish Heart.â€ There was no trace of it in â€œLover Come Back to Me,â€ in which she made a dramatic reentry following Anders Apellâ€™s guitar solo and she and Jers improvised a duet.
Drummer Hannes Olbersâ€™ RÃ¥dhusparken concert featured HÃ¥kan BrostrÃ¶m the veteran lead saxophonist of the Norrbotten Big Band. Olbers and his rhythm section companions, bassist Sebastian NordstrÃ¶m and pianist Sven-Erik Lundeqvist, were among the brightest of the young Swedish musicians I heard in Ystad. NordstrÃ¶m, here in his Johnny Cash T-shirt with BrostrÃ¶m, 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. â€œIn What is this Thing Called Love?â€ BrostrÃ¶mâ€™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 â€œMisty,â€ with its lyrical yet gutsy BrostrÃ¶m solo.
Pianist Jan Lundgren, the Ystad festivalâ€™s artistic director, pegged John Venkiah in the festival program as, â€œOne of the most talented young jazz musicians I encountered during my time at the MalmÃ¶ Academy of Music.â€ In his trio concert at Scala, titled â€œThings Change,â€ the musicality of Venkiahâ€™s singing and piano playing in his composition by that name supported Lundgrenâ€™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 NordstrÃ¶m in his Johnny Cash shirt, Fanny Gunnarsson and many other contemporary Swedish jazz musicians, Caroline Leanderâ€™s influences come from a variety of genres. In her concert at Scala, some of Ms. Leanderâ€™s songs suggested Bob Dylan, some Carole King or Joni Mitchell. Her piano playing had, among other elements, the Nordic coolness of EsbjÃ¶rn Svensson, the wildness of Jerry Lee Lewisâ€™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 HÃ¥kansson. Magnus Lindeberg was the guitarist. In video from a 2010 concert, the guitarist is Peter TegnÃ©r. The piece, â€œPainfully Glad,â€ 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 gÃ¥rd concert by the Swedish Statesmen, all in their seventies or early eighties, all still swinging.
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 â€˜Autumn Leaves,â€™ the septuagenarian pair broke into girlish laughter.
Here is Ms. Lindberg with the Anders FÃ¤rdal Quartet playing â€œWalk With Me,â€ 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 FÃ¤gersten for permission to use his work.
Have a good weekend.