At the Ystads Konstmuseum, the Carsten Dahl Experience was, indeed, an experience. After launching his career as a drummer, Dahl taught himself piano in the early 1980s and quickly developed formidable technique that was on full display with his quartet of fellow Danes.
At the beginning of his concert, the pianist reached inside the instrument to make harp-like sounds. Alto saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen played notes that seemed incidental but may have been intended as commentary on Dahl’s strumming. Out of the piano’s insides and seated at the keyboard, Dahl indulged in fragmentation in the manner of Cecil Taylor. Zeuthen responded by emulating the Ornette Coleman school. Addressing the audience, Dahl described Zeuthen as “a pioneer of free jazz.” Moving on, Dahl played a short solo whose intensity and intriguing harmonies seemed more likely to have been inspired by Franz Liszt than by Taylor. Then, at considerable length, Zeuthen played free jazz with a full tone—including vibrato—that was reminiscent of the French classical saxophonist Marcel Mule. Throughout, bassist Niels Davidsen and drummer Stefan Pasborg energized the proceedings with rhythmic churn that they constantly adjusted to one another and to Dahl’s and Zeuthen’s permutations. In a piano solo that he managed to make both controlled and free, Dahl disclosed familiarity with the roots of jazz, quoting Lester Young’s “Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid.” He gave his listeners an hour and a half of uncompromising music leavened with episodes of lightheartedness.
Deborah Brown, born in Kansas City, evoked her hometown in an Ystad concert dedicated to the memory of Ella Fitzgerald. Ms. Brown has performed widely in Japan and Indonesia and been based in Europe for a dozen years. She has collaborated with leading musicians including Clark Terry, Toots Thielemans, Red Mitchell, Lee Konitz and Ed Thigpen. At the Ystads Theater, the Polish orchestra Leopoldinum Strings accompanied her, along with Polish tenor saxophonistSylwester Ostrowski and an American rhythm section of pianist Rob Bargad, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet and drummer Newman Taylor Baker (To the left we see Baker with her). When she scatted, her smooth delivery, accurate intonation and assured time feeling were assets. Scatting in “What Is This Thing Called Love,” she was particularly evocative of Fitzgerald. She vocalized beautifully over the richness of the strings in “How Deep Is The Ocean.”
“Cry Me a River” was notable not only for Brown’s emotional singing but also for short, contained, solos by Ostrowski and pianist Bargad and for Ms. Brown’s boogaloo vocalese ending the piece. With Jon Hendricks’ lyric the Thelonious Monk ballad “Pannonica” becomes, as Ms. Brown told the audience, “a song about butterflies.” She scatted the tune’s bridge the second time through, and in his solo Ostrowski tapped his Charlie Rouse gene. As her own skilled piano accompanist, Ms. Brown sang “My Love Will Wait For You” and “The Nearness Of You.” The concert’s big moment came near the end when she sang the blues “Goin’ To Kansas City.” Enlisting the audience, she told them that they would be her “jazz choir.’ She then led them through a call-and-response routine that permeated the theatre with good feeling.
Landgren Meets Lundgren
In two major concerts Jan Lundgren, the festival’s artistic director, slid out of his management function and onto the bench of the Ystad Theatre’s brand new nine-foot Steinway. His duo partner was trombonist and vocalist Nils Landgren, one of contemporary Sweden’s most popular performers. Their concert began as Deborah Brown’s had ended, with the blues, played with gusto and camaraderie. In large print Inside the bell of Landgren’s horn was emblazoned the name of its manufacturer; not a subtle touch, but perhaps effective if there were prospective trombone buyers in the audience. In his veiled voice, Landgren sang “This Masquerade,” and followed with two traditional songs, Swedish in feeling, very restrained. A fast piece whose Swedish name eluded me concluded with one of Landgren’s trademarks, a big trombone whoop leaving no doubt that the song was over. Landgren began to sing “The Nearness of You,” had a memory lapse and asked the audience to come to his rescue. They supplied the lyric and he started over. “I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I’ve sung that hundreds of times.” Take two was fine.
Through a program that included the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood,” Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” Mancini’s and Mercer’s “Moon River” and the Russian song “Moscow Nights,” Landgren and Lundgren performed with the virtuosity that has enabled both to rise to the top of their nation’s cultural circles. Lundgren’s friendships included one with the poet Jacques Werup (1945-2016), who inspired the pianist’s composition “The Poet,” which he played alone. In Joe Sample’s “Same Old Story, Same Old Song,” Landgren encouraged the audience to sing the title phrase with him each time it appeared. Some did, with rollicking enthusiasm. Loud demand for an encore led Lundgren and Landgren to a slow version of the perennially popular “Ack Värmeland, du sköna”/”Värmlandsvisan,” a classic of the Swedish folk tradition known in much of the world as “Dear Old Stockholm.” It didn’t stay slow for long. As the pace picked up, Lundgren began initiating random key changes and finally threw one that Landgren could not negotiate. He had to concede that he had lost the chromatic competition and bowed out playing a series of deep trombone split tones. That amused Lundgren, Landgren and the audience and brought the concert to a hilarious close marked by wild applause and cheers.