The Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival is compact and tightly scheduled. In this ancient town on the Baltic shore at Sweden’s southern tip most of the concert sites are within easy walking distance of one another. Still, it would be possible to hear all of the festival’s music only at the price of sleeplessness and exhaustion. I offer you highlights of some of what I have heard and seen so far. More extensive impressions may come later.
The festivities got underway with the irrepressible New York band the Rad Trads leading the citizenry and festivalgoers through the center of town, parading in the New Orleans tradition. Then, in the courtyard of Per Helsas Gård, the site of a 15th century farm, they played the first of their two concerts. That evening the eight- piece outfit entertained festival patrons and donors with their energetic, often manic, music in a show that had elements of vaudeville schtik. They seem inspired by 1940s jump bands, rock and roll of the Elvis Presley era, folk music andas in an original called “Check Cashin’ Day”occasional minor-key harmonies compatible with bebop. They gave “Lil’ Liza Jane” a frenetic R&B workout. Their version of “Georgia on My Mind” was touching despite volcanic energy that might have seemed ludicrous in the context of Hoagy Carmichael’s balladexcept that they made the combination work. (Pictured in the parade, trumpeter and leader Michael Fatum and his drummer brother Johnny)
The Swedish vocalist Linnea Hall appeared at the Hos Morten Café with her quartet, one of many international groups at the festival. Drummer Anders Vestergaard is Danish. Pianist Emanuele Maniscalco and bassist Roberto Bordiga are Italian. Ms. Hall sings with simplicity, but her work is far from plain. In “I’m Old Fashioned,” her reading of the lyric was intelligent story-telling underscored by the use of melisma to color vowels in the final chorus. Her creative phrasing in “I’m Beginning to See the Light” was another illumination of a song’s meaning. She ended “I Fall in Love Too Easily” by moving the last note up a half step. It more than made up for her only intonation flaw of the set earlier in that song. One more instance of her musical instinct; in “That Old Devil Moon,” Ms. Hall nudged the time slightly to enhance the lyric where it soars on, “flying high and wide.”
The discovery of the set, for me, was pianist Maniscalco. His flow of improvised melody lines and non-cliched use of modulations in creating them made for fascinating listening. He was not reluctant to now and then revert to pure melody as composed. Whether or not he did so to remind his listeners of the context in which he was playing, it had that welcome effect. As for the other sidemen, Bordiga and Vestergaard showed canny bass-drums regard for one another and for support of their colleagues. That was notable in their creation of a cushion of bowed bass and softly stroked cymbals under Ms. Hall in her performance of “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.”
There’s much more to report. I’ll try to find time time between concerts to do it.