CIRCLES / HAMMAR: Circles. Mammakech. Bossa for Ella. Choose Your Issues/Hildegunn. Praia de Buzios. New O. Habbit Rabbit. Uphill . SIMONE: Four Women / Karin Hammar Fab 4: Hammar, tb; Andreas Hourdakis, el-gtr; Niklas Fernqvist, bs; Fredrik Rundqvist, dm / Prophone PCD175
For many decades, aside from being singers, most women in jazz played piano, guitar, vibes or some other “non male” instrument. The appearance of women jazz drummers in the 1960s were looked upon not so much with awe as with incredulity, no matter how good they were. The first really great female jazz trumpeter I heard was Marie Speziale, a member of the Cincinnati Symphony in the 1960s and ‘70s who also played jazz and did so extremely well. It was a long time before I started to see female sax players, although nowadays the sight of Hermine Deurloo (who played with Willem Brueker, and has now switched to the harmonica) or Chloe Feoranzo is not as shocking as it once was.
But women trombonists simply did not exist—at least, not really good ones who could compete with the men. Karin Hammer breaks that glass ceiling, and this CD is a fine example of both her playing and compositional skills.
As an instrumentalist, Hammar possesses an extremely warm and rich sound that, oddly enough, reminded me of Tommy Dorsey (I’m sure she’d cringe if she knew I said that, but I certainly mean it as a compliment), but her sense of jazz time is surer (TD could never really swing as well as his younger brother, Jimmy) and her improvisations are far more original and creative. It’s just the sound that reminds me of TD.
As a composer. Hammar’s music tends towards a soft sound, which might make the reader assume that it is “ambient jazz,” but it is not. It’s just a Swedish version of cool jazz, modernized via the use of somewhat ambiguous melody lines and constantly shifting harmonies. In addition, I was extremely pleased to hear that electric guitarist plays in a mostly jazz style and not so much in a rock style. Yes, he does use some inflections borrowed from Chicago-style electric blues, but that’s still not rock.
As the only horn on the album and principal solo voice, this CD is clearly a showcase for Hammar. Despite her Dorsey-like tone, her improvisations reminded me of Jimmy Knepper, the great trombonist who was one of Charles Mingus’ favorite musicians, and in a way the second track on this CD, Mammakech, had a sort of Mingus-like sound about it. Bossa for Ella may be titled as a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald (since the album has absolutely no liner notes, I’m only guessing here), and on this track her resemblance to Dorsey’s smooth, rich tone is particularly strong in the slow first chorus. Here, as elsewhere, the rhythm section of bassist Niklas Fernqvist and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist almost seems to be playing at a subito level, although the former has a fine solo on this track.
Choose Your Issues/Hildegunn starts out softly, in an echo chamber, sounding very much like ambient jazz, but eventually becomes a slow ballad. Fernqvist also has a nice pizzicato solo on this one. Unfortunately, this is where guitarist Hourdakis suddenly decides that he’s playing with a rock band, thus ruining the track. Praia de Buzios is a soft Latin piece, almost but not quite a bossa nova, and Hammar again plays interesting solos. During Hourdakis’ solo, the beat placements suddenly shift and morph, pulling the rug out from under the listener.
I particularly liked New O, which had a sort of New Orleans-Professor Longhair (or Dr. John) sound to the rhythm. This, for me, was one of the best compositions on the CD, with a middle section in what sounded like a modified 3. Hammar is also quite good here, and the tempo comes way down for the bass solo. The group also does a nice job on Nina Simone’s Four Women.
Habbit Rabbit is one of those pieces using two themes in completely contrasting tempi and styles, one uptempo and the those more of a ballad. The finale, Uphill, is a ballad in a somewhat modern style, again played beautifully by Hammar and her quartet.
Basically, then, an album of pleasant yet interesting jazz played by a tightly-knit quartet with style and grace.
—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley
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