SWEDISH PORTRAIT / GULLIN: Mazurka. Har någon sett/Baritonome. Merlin. Galium Verum. Fine Together, Holy Grail. I min smala säng. Decent Eyes. Toka Voka Oka Boka. Danny’s Dream. Igloo. Late Date. MA. Be Careful / Fredrik Lindborg, bar-sax/t-sax/s-sax; Daniel Migdal, Henrik Naimark Meyers, vln; Yivali Zilliaous, vla; Amalie Stalheim, cel; Martin Sjöstedt, bs; Daniel Fredriksson, dm / Prophone PLP201
This album, released as a double-LP set but also available as a digital download, represents veteran saxist Fredrik Lindborg’s vision of Swedish jazz, which he feels that since the 1950s has “a unique sound. The fire of American jazz, mixed with the melancholy of Swedish folk music,” which “has evolved into a genre of its own.” Interestingly, although Lindborg himself has written many original pieces himself, this entire set consists of compositions by the great baritone saxist Lars Gullin—and he incorporates a string quartet into his own trio.
I was rather startled by Mazurka, a melancholy little waltz that is entirely composed and played only by the string quartet, but in Har någon sett/Baritonome, the tempo picks up as we encounter a sort of Swedish bossa nova. Here, the strings interact with the trio a bit less than one would hear from the best jazz string quartets (Turtle Island, Atom) but certainly more than one heard from string sections in 1940s jazz. It’s a bit like Stan Getz’ Focus album, except with a baritone sax instead of a tenor. Halfway through, the music switches from the bossa nova beat to a straight four as Lindborg takes off on a wonderful solo, but the real surprise comes at the three-minute mark when the music suddenly disintegrates and stops before resuming in its quasi-bossa-nova sort of way. A very interesting piece.
Merlin is a slow ballad, with the strings introducing Lindborg playing a breathy tenor solo over their pizzicato raindrops. The strings take up the bow again for the middle section, leading back to Lindborg who now plays with a little more meat in his tone. The bass and drums sit this one out until 2:52, at which point the strings fall away for a chorus. Sjöstedt is an excellent bassist with a great sense of time and good ideas. Eventually, the string quartet returns, playing half and whole notes behind Lindborg. A bit later on, Sjöstedt takes a fine bass solo with the quartet behind him. By contrast, Galium Verum is a swinger, albeit one with a little stop-start feel to the tempo. Lindborg plays a nice a cappella break in the midst of one chorus before moving out on his improvisation. Sjöstedt also plays a solo on this one.
Fine Together almost sounds like an outgrowth of Galium Verum; the basic pulse is just a shade slower, but the key is similar though the shape of the piece is quite different. There’s a nice cat-and-mouse feeling in this one as the tempo stops, restarts and changes.
Indeed, throughout this album Lindborg and his expanded group alternate and shift moods, sometimes a bit more extreme than usual. The slightly morbid-sounding ballad Holy Grail is one such example, and on this track Lindborg switches to the soprano sax. At the 2:38 mark, the tempo picks up and he really wails like a modern-day Sidney Bechet—and then the tempo drops to a crawl, the rhythm section drops out for a bit, and things change once again. The bossa nova feel returns in I min smäla sang, with Lindborg going back to tenor. And every one of the 14 tracks on this album is creative and interesting while resolutely tonal in construction. Many a modern classical composer could learn quite a bit about structure from Gullin’s interesting pieces. Each little bit of music in them follows logically or introduces a new theme that somehow fits into the surrounding material.
To some extent, Toka Voka Oka Boka is the strangest piece on the album, opening with high string chords played in whole tones over which the melody is overlaid before Lindborg comes wailing in on the soprano and the tempo switches to a funky 3/4. We then get a cello solo as the other strings improvise above it for a few bars, leading back to Lindborg. But, as is often the case with the pieces on this album, the music keeps shifting and changing, eventually leading us to yet another ballad tune for the last few choruses.
The album as a whole is interesting and often adventurous music, well worth checking out!
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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