Ulf and Erik Wakenius Create Guitar Magic


FATHER AND SON / ZAWINUL: Birdland (2 vers). U. WAKENIUS: Irish Vagabond. Mistral. Paco’s Delight. TRADITIONAL: Medley: Meine Schöne Heimat/Vem Kan Segla Förutan Vind. MORRICONE: Once Upon a Time in America. TRADITIONAL: Scarborough Fair. Medley: SVENSSON: Dodge the Dodo/BERGLUND-ÖSTRÖM: When God Created the Coffee Break. LENNON-McCARTNEY: Eleanor Rigby. STEVENS: Father and Son. SINGLETON: Help the Poor / Ulf Wakenius, Erik Wakenius, gtr/voc / Act 9843-2 (live: Göthenburg, September 3, 2016)

In Europe, the father and son team of Ulf and Erik Wakenius is practically legendary, whereas here in the U.S. they’re not as well known as a duo. Ulf is better known than Erik because he played for 10 years on the Oscar Peterson Quartet. What I particularly liked about them is that both play the guitar with guts and drive, not the usual laid-back “soft” guitar playing one normally hears here in the U.S.

The sales sheet accompanying this release tells us that famed guitarist John McLaughlin, whose playing is fast and flashy but doesn’t say much to me, once praised Ulf Wakenius by saying that he sounds as if he was born with a guitar in his hands. He certainly can play, and to my ears his solos are more creative and say more than McLaughlin’s own. Of course, since this is not a video I have no idea which player is Ulf and which is Erik, but they’re certainly a fit match for each other. It’s almost like listening to José Feliciano double-tracking himself. I particularly liked the way one of them would vamp a bass line while the other would improvise in the treble. Such moments were not frequent on the album, but when they did occur they were special.

My sole caveat to this album is that some of the music leaned towards funk or fusion, but played by just two acoustic guitars it doesn’t hammer on the brain nearly as badly as a full band would. They also break up these numbers with some traditional swingers and, in the case of Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in America, a nice ballad piece, played with great sensitivity and elegance by the duo. Paco’s Delight, a tribute to Paco de Lucia, also contains a bit of Django Reinhardt as well; I particularly loved the way they “bounce” off each other in this number. Are they as good as Django or Feliciano? Not quite, but who is? I can certainly enjoy them on their own level because what they play is inventive and beautifully articulated.

Their version of Scarborough Fair never touches the melody, but is rather a two-minute duo improvisation in the key of B. Surprisingly, Dodge the Dodo turns out to be a fairly hard-driving Latin-rhythm tune while its successor in this medley, When God Created the Coffee Break, is a syncopated piece in which one guitar remains almost constantly in the bass range playing an ostinato rhythm against the other’s top-line improvisations.

I was particularly delighted by their treatment of the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, played in lightly-strummed thirds, sometimes minor thirds at that. I’ve never heard it like this in my life! Erik Wakenius sings the folk tune-like Father and Son by Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam. It’s pleasant but kind of a nothing tune, like all of Cat Stevens’ songs. This is followed by a longer version of Joe Zawinul’s famous piece Birdland, played with zest and a nice rhythmic bounce by the duo. As the piece goes on, they almost make a folk-rock-jazz piece out of it. Who needs a bass player when the two of them can play this well?

The album closes with a song titled Help the Poor, which has a sort of funky beat and lyrics I couldn’t even understand. Are they singing in English? It doesn’t sound it to me. A sad ending to an otherwise great album, highly recommended for American guitarists who want to learn how they should be playing their instruments.

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

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