Nearly as old as jazz itself, Svend Asmussen celebrated his 100th birthday in February. The Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival honored him in a concert by two violinists, Bjarke Falgren and Gunnar Lidberg, who were inspired by the centenarian. Asmussen’s longtime guitar colleague Jacob Fischer was also a part of the band, along with bassist Mattias Petri and drummer Andreas Svendsen. Above, we see Petri and Fischer, with Lidberg in the background. The concert was in the ancient Per Helas Gard courtyard, which was packed with Asmussen admirers. To the surprise of the band, the festival staff and the audience, an unexpected listener arrived—Asmussen himself, with his wife Ellen. Press office director Itta Johnson captured them at Per Helsas Gard in this impromptu portrait.
Asmussen, who no longer plays, listened intently to his proteges.
A master of the art of duo playing, Dave Liebman toured and recorded extensively with pianist Richie Beirach in the 1980s and has combined in duets with a number of other musicians. His rich history also includes work on soprano and tenor saxes with Miles Davis, Elvin Jones and Chick Corea, among others. In 1973 he founded the group Lookout Farm with Beirach and guitarist John Abercrombie.
Liebman’s partner at the Ystad festival was the French pianist Jean-Marie Machado. They opened their recital at the Klosterkyrkan with Machado’s “Little Dog Waltz,” a piece as spritely as its title suggests, and went on to several more Machado compositions and Liebman’s dramatic “Breath.” In that work, Liebman pushed air and partial notes through his horn as if struggling to get them out, before he settled into abstract lines. The Kosterkyrkan’s eccentric acoustics were as challenging as they had been to Joachim Kuhn and to the Heinz Sauer-Michael Wollny duo earlier in the week. Like them, Liebman and Machado adjusted to the sound delay, even took advantage of it. In another piece, whose title I heard as “Blue Spice,” Liebman improvised alone for more than a minute before Machado entered behind him streaming notes like rippling waters. Both indulged in aggressive passages with blues leanings. In the traditional Portuguese Fado “So a Noithina Saudade,” Liebman enhanced the Latin feeling with popping sounds that he generated with his mouthpiece. Machado’s and Liebman’s encore in this multifaceted set was Maurice Ravel’s short song “Le Reveil de La Mariee,” furbished and expanded through their imaginations in ways that the impressionist Ravel might well have approved.
In addition to introducing every festival event, hosting a public breakfast discussion with the Swedish jazz magazine Orksterjournalen’s Magnus Nygren, sitting in with tenor saxophonist Bernt Rosengren and being generally omnipresent, artistic director Jan Lundgren played two major concerts. He, bassist Mattias Svensson and the Bonfiglioli Weber String Quartet repeated last year’s Ystad tribute to the influential Swedish pianist Jan Johansson (1931-1968). That version is now out on CD. They concentrated on music from Johansson’s popular and musically satisfying albums of Swedish and Russian music and, for good measure, threw in two Hungarian pieces from another of his albums. Lundgren’s and Svensson’s integration with the strings was once again a demonstration that in the right hands the jazz and classical idioms can not only blend but also enhance one another. The demonstration included improvisations by members of the string quartet, until a few years ago something that classical musicians either were incapable of or kept secret.
Lundgren also reunited with flugelhornist Paolo Fresu and accordionist Richard Galliano in the trio they call Mare Nostrum, to play music featured on their second CD, and some from their first. Highlights were Lundgren’s “Giselle” and “The Seagull” and Galliano’s “Chat Pitre.” They closed with Lundgren’s “Loveland,” which, he told the audience, “means Ystad.”
The evening before, Galliano received two standing ovations for his solo accordion concert at the beautiful Santa Maria church in the center of Ystad.