With a catch in his throat, Jan Lundgren told his capacity audience in the Ystad Theatre, “This is something I’ve been planning for 25 years.” Lundgren was paying tribute to pianist Jan Johansson, a major figure in the development of modern jazz in Sweden and one of the reasons Lundgren decided in his teens that jazz piano would be his career. Johansson died in a car accident in 1968 at the age of 37. His albums continue to be among Sweden’s most highly regarded recordings in any genre.
For the Johansson tribute concert at the Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival, a string quartet joined Lundgren (pictured above) and his frequent bassist Mattias Svensson in a program of pieces from Johansson’s pioneering album Jazz på Svenska (Jazz in Swedish). They also played a handful of works from his follow-up collections based on Russian and Hungarian melodies. The arrangements by Martin Berggren reflected Johansson’s closeness to the traditional music of his native land while also providing space for the inventiveness of Lundgren, Svensson and the strings. In the Hungarian segment, first violinist Claudia Bonfiglioli played an electrifying solo on “Det vore synd att dö än,” displaying a skill for improvisation unusual among classical musicians. Her sister Danielaplaying second violinviolist Karolina Weber-Ekdahl, and cellist Charlotta Weber-Widerström happily contributed to the ensemble swing. Weber-Widerström’s rich tone was a vital component of the music.
Lundgren’s pianism in the ensembles and his solos confirmed the notion among musicians, critics and listeners that he is a modern-day equivalent of Johansson and of Sweden’s other avatar of modern jazz piano, Bengt Hallberg, who died in 2013. In two of the Swedish pieces, “Polska efter Höök-Olle” and “Berg-Kirsti’s Polsha,” and later in one of Johansson’s Russian folk music adaptations, Lundgren and Svensson exercised their customary single-mindedness and interaction as a duo. Maybe the secret is that they listen so closely to one another, but they anticipate note choices and phrasing so consistently that it’s hard to dismiss the thought that extrasensory perception has something to do with it.
The salute to Jan Johansson by Lundgren no doubt satisfied the national spirit of their listeners. According to the festival management, the audience was 80 percent Swedish. But it would have been difficult for non-Swedes as well not to be moved by the musicianship and feeling of Lundgren and friends.