Danemo’s Big Band Music With a Twist

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HEDVIGSNÄS / DANEMO: Antoine. Prelude. Monolithos. 5-56. Synthesis. Woodland. Rudhme. Hedvigsnäs. Even in the Odds / Norrbotten Big Band: Jacek Onuszkiewicz, Magnus Ekholm, Dan Johansson, Peter Lindhamre, tp/fl-hn; Peter Dahlgren, Arvid Ingberg, Urban Wiborg, tb; Björn Hängsel, bs-tb/tuba; Håken Broström, a-sax/s-sax/a-fl; Janne Thelin, a-sax/B-flat cl/bs-cl/contra-bs-cl; Mats Garberg, t-sax/fl; Robert Nordmark, t-sax/a-sax/B-flat cl; Per Moberg, bar-sx/fl; Adam Forkelid, pn; Christian Spering, bs; Konrad Agnas, dm; Peter Danemo, electronics/cond / Prophone PCD162

Swedish drummer-composer-arranger Peter Danemo spent a full year as composer-in-residence for the Norrbotten Big Band, which he described as “an orchestra like no other, whose members endured shifting tempos and odd metres without ever losing their focus on the music. Each one of them added his unmistakable style and sound to the compositions, filling the music with creativity and mature playing.” Listening to the CD, it is certainly all of that and more, a mélange of heavy bass sounds (a combination of low saxes, bass clarinets and trombones) playing against a top line of astonishing creativity.

Like so much modern jazz that I’ve heard in the past few years, Danemo’s music utilizes not only uneven meter but also shifting stress beats. Finally, the predictions of Dave Brubeck, George Russell and Don Ellis of a time when jazz would no longer be tied to a standard 4/4 beat has become the norm rather than the exception. In terms of sound texture, however, Danemo remains pretty much a big band traditionalist, combining the sound textures that Sy Oliver developed with the Tommy Dorsey band back in the early 1940s with those of the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. He thus works in primary colors rather than mixtures of timbres, and the colors he works most consistently in are dark earth tones.

The opening of the second track, titled Prelude, sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie, with muted trumpets playing a repeated riff against soft electronics and low rumblings from the bass instruments. We even hear some electronically-created bird sounds as a forlorn flugelhorn plays against this backdrop, followed by an equally forlorn-sounding baritone sax solo by Per Moberg. Written or improvised? I would assume the former, but have no way of telling. Danemo references the crime-drama TV shows of the 1960s and early ‘70s as his inspiration for this piece. This is the kind of music that transcends jazz; it’s really impressionistic music written for a chamber group of brass, reeds, electronics and rhythm section, the kind of music that crosses boundaries and has no label. A free-form piano solo by Forkelid is heard among the instruments before stepping to the center of the stage and assuming prominence.

Monolithos was based on a piano improvisation that Danemo created late one night in about 15 minutes. It has a ruminative quality, more of a mood piece than a really structured composition. It is held together by a superb trombone solo from Peter Dahlgren, playing against the bass, with cymbal washes and snare drum interludes to add color. This interaction of the three instruments gradually increases in tempo, then the trumpets move in behind them to increase volume and fill in the sonic landscape. Eventually high saxes and piano come in with their own musical line, relaxing both tempo and volume, eventually supported by the winds before Forkelid’s solo piano provides the bridge to a slow but rousing passage which becomes the dominant theme for a while, followed by free-form improv by trombone and trumpet before a quiet muted trumpet coda.

Danemo explains that 5-56 is a well-known lubricating oil in Sweden, but it also refers to “the number of beats between the bar lines.” Aside from its metric complexity, it is somewhat straightahead jazz with some amazing and unexpected interludes, including one for piano, bass clarinets, flugelhorns and muted trumpets over the rhythm section. There is also an extended tenor solo by Nordmark to add interest as the tempo increases and tightens, creating tension as it accelerates. When it relaxes, we hear Broström on alto and the pattern repeats itself, this time becoming even faster and edgier.

Synthesis is another impressionistic piece, built around improvisations by trumpeter Lindhamre and bassist Spering that Danemo “first deconstructed and then put back together.” Again, there is no real forward pulse, the music rather floating amorphously in the ether, with Lindhamre dominating the proceedings. Woodland is also a rather amorphous piece, much more sparsely orchestrated, centering around the bass and contrabass clarinets with flutes playing against them. Bowed string bass also makes its presence felt. The music itself is a sort of slow tune that hovers around A major.

Rudhme is an old Norse word meaning “blush” or “blushing,” which Danemo applies to a leap he once made “into the unknown, without really knowing if there was solid ground beneath me.” It is a ruminative piece that generally hovers around the key of D, and not altogether amorphous, using high wind and muted brass combinations against the bass and drums, with eloquent solos by Ingberg’s trombone, Spering’s bass and Johansson’s flugelhorn. There’s a certain quiet assuredness to this music that feels comfortable and right. The title track, Danemo says, is dedicated to all the children “who are robbed of a secure and loving upbringing.” It is largely centered around the ruminative piano of Forkelid, with low murmurings from the trombones and tuba, later moving up into the flugelhorns and trumpets. The bass and drums sit this one out.

The final piece, Even in the Odds, was Danemo’s experiment in making “the odd sound even and the even sound odd,” ignoring “the gravity of the bar line.” It has an nice but quirky flow about it, beginning with an eloquent soprano sax solo from Broström over the rhythm section that put me in mind a bit of the late Art Pepper. Eventually, at 3:30, soft brass chords come in behind him, increasing the volume before a dead stop followed by an out-of-tempo passage that sounds like a cadenza but is actually a bridge to a funky section played by the rhythm. When the band enters they play ambiguous figures that only coalesce into a melody once the clarinets come in. The ensuing chorus is closer to conventional big-band writing except for the quirky rhythms. Solos by Forkelid and Ingberg (on trombone) fill in several of the ensuing choruses, and Danemo surprises the listener with an ensemble chorus that ends the piece in the middle of a statement.

All in all, this was a surprisingly fresh and original take on big band music that I really didn’t expect prior to hearing it, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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