Svensson Presents Sketches and Fantasies

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SVENSSON: Dawn. Promenade. Siesta. Latcho Drom. Weed. Nightfall / Staffan Svensson, tpt/Fl-hn; Signe Lykkebo Dahlgreen, t-sax/bs-cl; Karin Wiberg, Eva Lindal, vln; Niclas Rydh, tb; Emma Augustsson, cel; Harald Svensson, pno; Nina De Haney, bs; Henrik Wartel, dm/perc / Footprint FR106

Here’s a rare example where even my having the booklet to the CD as a reference told me absolutely nothing about the composer/performer. Digging online, I discovered that Harald Svensson is a Swedish pianist, born in Göteborg, who has worked as a freelance musician since 1973 with a large number of creative musicians both in Sweden and internationally. But initially, at least, you’d never really be able to tell that Svensson was a jazz musician from the opening phrases of Dawn, and even when the drums, violins and trombone enter, the music is utterly strange. Yes, it’s free jazz, but free jazz with a strong feeling of contemporary classical music about it. Only the way the trombone is played, with plunger-muted “wahs” in places, give you an indication that this is not classical music.

Much of this opening section of Dawn fails to coalesce as a piece, but I think that was Svensson’s intention. By 2:55, when the tenor sax enters the picture, a sort of melodic line emerges and the music becomes more coherent, though the strings whine or play pizzicato in the background, the trumpet plays high-pitched atonal squeals, and, as Rudyard Kipling once said, “the dawn comes up like thunder.” Or something resembling thunder, but whinier. Eventually the music morphs into a bass clarinet-piano duo, then it moves into fast, skittering figures by the violins. A strange piece, indeed! Kind of like a new, previously undiscovered Stanley Kubrick film: A Clockwork Crazy.

Promenade begins with a strange but more melodically contoured line played by the violin, bass clarinet and trombone without the rhythm section before the full band (or most of it, at least) begins playing a stiffish, Kurt Weill sort of tune with atonal overtones. It’s like promenading on one broken leg and a mechanical leg that hasn’t been oiled recently. Siesta begins with assorted percussion, played very softly, before Svensson starts plucking his piano strings while some of the other instruments play, almost whispering or breathing lightly into their instruments, in the background to create interesting ambient sounds. Eventually the muted trumpet is heard more clearly, playing its own weird, long lines above the others as the cello enters with edgy bowed figures and the bass clarinet and trombone interject their own little moans. Then the muted Flugelhorn plays its own weird melodic line around the swirling wind and string figures as the percussion drops out. It ends in the middle of nowhere.

Latcho Drom, the loudest piece (so far) on the album, begins with a riot of sound as the full band projects itself menacingly into your living room. Eventually the wall of sound recedes and we hear a very strange cello-bass duet, with the former playing atonal bowed figures, sometimes glissandi, while the bass plucks its way through its own atonal path. Yet, amazingly, this music does develop in its own strange way, creating a fascinating labyrinth of sound. Even when eccentric elements such a little squirts from the muted trumpet and sort of factory-sounds from the percussion, strings and winds come in, it somehow all fits together with a bizarre sort of musical logic. Eventually, all the others gradually drop out of the picture as Svensson plays a rich-chorded but bitonal piano solo, then the others enter as the volume increases and we reach the aural chaos of the beginning. A very interesting composition!

Weed opens with stark crushed chords played by the ensemble before Dahlgreen moves in on tenor saxophone to play a surprisingly melodic line above the fray. The tenor, however, then moves into edgier figures played in between his melodic ones which fit the surrounding material better. Eventually the bass drum sets up a repeated thumping in the background; it gets quiet for a moment, only to resume as before. This leads into Nightfall, a slow, moody piece centered around a bass drone on a subcontra C as the piano meanders around it and the others hold a long chord in the background. There’s a strange affinity here to certain modern classical music as the long-held chords continue to float around as one hears little improvised figures hither and yon.

A strange ending to a strange and wonderful album. I highly recommend hiring this band to play at your wedding. They know all the hit tunes the kids dance to nowadays!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

Follow me on Twitter (@artmusiclounge) or Facebook (as Monique Musique)

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