The Anna Lundqvist Quintet Gets Hot!

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MEWE / LUNDQVIST: Listen. Alone. Inspired. My Joy. The Ravens. Behind it All. Insomnia. Everything is Everything. Mewe. Without and Within. Beautiful Friend, The End / Anna Lundqvist, voc; Björn Almgren, t-sax/s-sax; Fabian Kallerdahl, pn; Mattias Grönroos, bs/el-bs; Jon-Erik Björange, dm/perc. Special guests: Krister Jonsson, el-gt; Stina Larsdotter, cello; Tobias Hedlund, vibes / Prophone PCD 169

The Anna Lundqvist Quintet’s latest musical adventure, MEWE is scheduled for release on September 1. Interestingly, I listened to this CD immediately after reviewing Sarah Maria Sun’s album of modern classical vocal music, and the contrast was startling. Not just the contrast in the kind of music being played, although that was certainly so, but a contrast in emotional involvement and communication.

I was intrigued and impressed by Sun’s well-trained soprano voice and much of the music she sang, but not moved by any of it. On the other hand, Anna Lundqvist and her brilliant band—which sounds far larger than a quintet most of the time—were both innovative and emotionally engaging. This is even so in such pieces as the opening number, Listen, in which the gifted Swedish singer uses her voice as a background instrument. Despite a semi-rock beat, the music has a swing and swagger that is irresistible, and the minor-modal melodic line is hypnotic and fascinating. In addition, Björn Almgren’s soprano sax solo is wonderfully crafted, fitting into the surrounding material like a hand in a glove.

The ending of Listen melts seamlessly into Alone, a quieter piece but no less interesting. Again, Lundqvist uses her voice as an instrument, and Almgren also plays another (quite lovely) soprano solo, but this time they retreat from the sound barrier and the rhythm is quite irregular.I couldn’t quite figure out the pulse, because every time I thought I had a handle on it, three or four extra beats would sneak into the bar, the bass and drums suspended playing, and I got lost trying to count. Fabian Kallerdahl plays a limpid piano solo in this one. Call me crazy, but some of this music reminded me of the work that Ursula Dudziak did back in the 1970s, only not so high in pitch.

By the time I reached Inspired, I definitely got the idea that this was a “concept” album, one in which Lundqvist and the quintet chose to experiment with sound, color and rhythm more than presenting what you would conventionally call a series of jazz pieces. Indeed, on this piece the piano-tenor sax duet had an almost classical feel to it with Kallerdahl comping in G minor while Almgren moves from simplistic exchanges to “outside” playing, with Lundqvist coming in over him as the harmony suddenly melts into a chaos of crushed chords and the volume increases. This is really remarkable music by any measurement!

My Joy starts out with more limpid piano, following which the tenor comes in. More ambiguous rhythms, this time in a sort of shuffle beat, with Lundqvist again singing wordlessly in the background before coming into the foreground for a scat solo. This one seemed to be in 6/8, however, so it wasn’t quite as strange as some of the earlier pieces. It was, however, a more tightly-knit piece in terms of structure, and I liked the way drummer Jon-Erik Björange played a sort of shuffle backbeat that held the piece together. This piece then blends into the beginning of The Ravens, which except for the use of jazz instruments almost had the sound of a modern classical piece. I particularly loved the way Anna’s voice perfectly matched the walking bass of Mattias Grönroos here.

Indeed, as the album progresses you find yourself getting deeper and deeper into the music as it becomes both quieter and more complex. Lundqvist’s voice also stays in the foreground on Insomnia with its changing meters and interesting musical effects, including a solo on electric piano just before the band gets into a funk groove for a while. The pressing tempo eases up to half as fast as guest guitarist Krister Jonsson plays a very bluesy solo, after which Kallerdahl returns on piano. The piece then just stops dead while bird whistles are heard before moving on to Everything is Everything with its more relaxed tempo and almost conventional melodic line. Yet even here, the band is kept on its toes, and I particularly liked the way Lundqvist’s voice dovetailed perfectly with the tenor sax, piano and rhythm.

The title track, Mewe, almost sounds like something from the old Peter Gunn program with a more modern sound texture. The music is propulsive in its eight-to-the-bar rhythm and the band (and Anna) really cooks on this one as a unit. Jonsson returns for another guitar solo, this one more rock-based than the former, followed by Kallerdahl on what sounds like an electric piano. After this chaos, Without and Within sounds like the eye of a hurricane, calming and lyrical with the focus on Almgren’s warm tenor sax and Lundqvist’s voice.

We ride out into the sunset with Beautiful Friend, The End, a brief piece played by Kallerdahl on soprano sax over the piano. A lovely ending to an overall superb CD.

And now, as a bonus, here is my interview with Anna Lundqvist herself!

Art Music Lounge: Anna, I loved your new album but it’s so different from your earlier work. It struck me as being a sort of “concept” album. Is that what you had in mind?

Anna Lundqvist: Thank you! Both yes and no. The thoughts of a more digital and electric approach has been in my mind for long time. Time and money has been a stress factor in my earlier works and I got “stuck” in the acoustic jazz. I love that too, of course, but in the progress of creating MEWE I told myself not to compromise with any of my visions. This time I wanted all my ideas to fit. I’ve never thought of it as a concept album, but now when it’s finished I can more and more hear and feel that that is what I’ve done! It’s an 11-track emotional ride of personal reflections.

AML: I’m not used to hearing you sing wordlessly in the background as much as you did in this album, although I’m very used to hearing you use your voice as an instrument in the ensemble. How did the pieces in this set evolve?

AL: This is also something that has been on my mind for a while. I’m not the typical jazz song interpreter, lyrics to me are not that important. It’s the music that sets me free! There is a tradition of jazz vocals that you are supposed to carry and I guess that I felt obligated to write lyrics when composing. During planning MEWE this came to me in an earliy stage: ” – I want to do an “instrumental” album.” It’s been a fantastic liberation and I also started to compose in another way. As a result, I started writing for the other members in ALQ. I wasn’t even in the lead anymore, as you said, I’m in the background in several of the tracks. But if you think about it, this is only uncommon because I’m a vocalist. If I were a saxophone player or played any other lead instrument this would not come as a surprise, it would just be a normal way of vary the arrangements and the dynamics.

AML: There were so many little details in each of the pieces on this album that I began to miss some of them. You must have worked yourself and the quintet very hard to achieve some of these effects, didn’t you?

AL: We had three guest this time and with that, guitar, vibes and cello we could create new worlds of sound. On top of that we’ve worked with digital sounds and samplings.

AML: Although you are listed as the composer of each tune, I would guess that the band members had some significant input into the finished performances, didn’t they?

AL: No, actually not. I produce, compose and arrange everything. This time I produced the music together with Martin Olsson. He has the technical knowledge for my ideas to come to life. ALQ is a part of the interplay, solos and acoustic sound, of course, but above that it’s written by me.

AML: Did you write all the arrangements yourself?

AL: Yes, aside from two songs. Martin wrote the vocal/vibe-line in the B-part in Alone and the piano intro-hook for The Ravens. Martin wrote that when he found me in a dead end, not finding the right touch for the song to come alive. It has been a great collaboration between us.

AML: I wasn’t sure what the extraneous sounds in the beginning or between tracks were supposed to represent. Sometimes they sounded like a radio station not quite tuned in, at other times like a nightclub audience talking between numbers. What was that all about?

AL: Well…Each foley [sound clip] has something to do with the album concept and with the song it’s attached to but I want it to be a personal experience for each listener, so I don’t have an answer to that. You have to find your own!

AML: How long has this particular quintet been playing with you? They sound perfectly attuned to both your singing and to one another.

AL: Yes, we love playing together and we love to hang out! There’s a lot of laughter in our rehearsals and in the tour bus, and they are all such great personalities. Mattias (bass), Jon-Erik (drums) and I have played together since I started the band in 2005. Fabian and Björn came along when we started to plan for my second album CITY (released 2010, before that we were just a quartet and we had another pianist). We share the expression of high energy and intensiveness and they always know how to make the best of my tunes.

AML: Does this CD represent a permanent change in direction for your quintet, or was it just an experiment in different sounds and forms?

AL: I don’t know. I might “go back” to the acoustic sound again but at the same time, working with MEWE has been so much fun and I’ve never felt more true and genuine. I don’t want to decide anything. I listen to my heart and what it tells me to write and do. That’s how I roll with everything. actually.

AML: Thank you for your time! I hope the CD gets a lot of airplay and does well for you!

AL: Thanks for your support, Lynn!

—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter! @Artmusiclounge

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz

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