As the Rifftides staff flies home, digital magic allows us to continue reporting on highlights of the 2016 Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival.
In the first of two Ystad appearances accompanying soloists, Sweden’s formidable Bohuslän Big Band backed singer LaGaylia Frazier. The Bohusläns opened the concert with “St. Louis Blues” in an arrangement that had touches reminiscent of Thad Jones and incorporated a reference to Fletcher Henderson’s “King Porter Stomp.” It had a peak moment in a Joakim Rolandsson alto saxophone solo that emulated Charlie Parker and Phil Woods without imitating or directly quoting them. Every time I hear him, Rolandsson (pictured) is increasingly impressive.
Ms. Frazier, an American who has lived in Sweden for 15 years, is a woman of a certain age who has the energy and demeanor of a hyperactive teenager. Singing all-out all of the time, she poured her dynamism into a variety of songs that ranged from the Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” through Lerner and Loewe’s (sp) “On The Street Where You Live,” Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “One Note Samba.” Rapping between songs, she described herself as a soul singer, but in “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” she included the verse and interpreted the lyric with sensitivity that had little to typecast her in any genre; it was simply good singing. Her hand jive and her dancing to Stefan Wingefors’ piano interlude could have been distractions, but she integrated them into the performance. Her jumping around and yelling during Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” were distractions, ‘way over the top. Following the Waller and a piece by Stevie Wonder, Ms. Frazier chose the Swedish song “Cecilia Lind” as an encore, comfortably wrapping herself around its minor harmonies.
Later in the week, the Bohuslän Big Band collaborated with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, as he explored pieces from his quarter of a century recording for the Blue Note label. During the set, Lovano received frequent endorsement by the Bohuslän reed section as their heads shook and jaws dropped when he negotiated feats of virtuosity transcending the most advanced saxophone method books. The arrangement of his composition “Bird’s Eye View” contained a saxophone soli passage that established the Bohuslän saxophonists’ own collective virtuosity.
A few other high points of the concert:
- Pianist Wingefors’ switch to accordion for a romp with Lovano through “Streets Of Naples.”
- A gorgeous reading of Charles Mingus’s ballad “Duke Ellington’s Sound Of Love.”
- Lovano roaring through the demanding harmonic changes of fellow tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge.”
- A great (term used advisedly) solo on “A Portrait Of Jenny.”
- Lovano indulging his Italian operatic passion in “Viva Caruso.”
The Ystad festival’s printed program describes the German pianist Joachim Kühn as “a world class musician whose playing style defies catergorization.” He lived up to that evaluation in his solo concert at the Klosterkyrkan. The stone walls and high ceiling of the 13th century church give it acoustic properties that produce a sound delay of as much as six seconds. That may be a challenge for the Klosterkyrkan’s choir. It is certainly one for the player of a nine-foot Steinway concert grand, but Kühn was unfazed. Indeed, he thrived in the resonant atmosphere. A piece that Kühn said originated with the rock band The Doors had a dissonant left-hand pattern that seemed to come from all parts of the room. A theme from Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby swelled with the peculiar mystery and beauty of that film. Kühn did not identify some of the music he played—or when he did, his heavily accented English obscured his words—but Gil Evans’s “Blues For Pablo” needed only a perfunctory introduction. Kühn played the piece with a stormy, nearly Lisztian aspect that gave way to sunshine. For his encore, he chose Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.” He embraced the melody and answered it with runs redolent of complex layers of chromatic harmonies that Kühn may have learned in listening to Art Tatum.
The Klosterkyrkan also hosted a pair of duet recitals involving pianists. The 83-year-old German tenor saxophonist Heinz Sauer teamed with Michael Wollny, a countryman less than half his age. The empathy they have developed in ten years of collaboration made their concert spellbinding.
Not tethered to standard form, harmonies or concepts of swing, the two played through a succession of pieces that riveted the audience’s attention. Playing or at rest, Sauer stood gazing above the heads of his listeners as if searching for something in the back of the church—or beyond. Wollny was a study in motion. He bobbed and weaved on the bench, his right foot fluttering the piano’s sustain pedal, his left jabbing the soft pedal. He reached into the instrument with his left had to pluck or swipe across strings as his right ranged through the upper octaves. Sauer often seemed to be meditating, hands to his forehead. They did not announce the names of tunes. Audience reaction indicated that no announcement was needed for Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence.” They flawlessly played the melody of Monk’s famous study in hesitancy and blew freely on the changes—and often also without regard to them. They played abstractions on “Everything Happens To Me,” working in a phrase from Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” as the piece ended, and concluded with a hymn-like song appropriate to the surroundings. Listening to Sauer and Wollny is like overhearing an intimate conversation.
Next time: Another Klosterkyrkan duo, and more, from Ystad 2016.