FREDRIK NORDSTRÖM QUINTET

Moment
Moserobie MMP CD 018

FIREHOUSE
Live at Glen Miller Café
Ayler aylCD-055

Taking into account the obvious geographical and distance issues, it’s starting to appear that the closest parallel to the cohesive growth of young improvisers appearing in Chicago is the burgeoning scene in Stockholm and Oslo.

Like Chicago, there seem to be any number of fine, new Freebop bands putting out praiseworthy CDs. Unlike the factionalism of New York, say, or London, where the multiple scenes rarely interact, Chicago musicians are in-and-out of each others’ bands and recordings. It’s the same story in the Norwegian and Swedish capitals.

Thus here you have two, mostly quintet CDs recorded in Stockholm within a month of one another, both featuring Swedish trumpeter Magnus Broo, two different tenor saxophonists named Fredrik and a backing cast quite familiar with one another.

For a start Fredrik Nordström the leader of MOMENT and Firehouse’s Fredrik Ljungkvist play in a 12-piece band together. That group also includes Broo, the Nordström quintet’s bassist Filip Augustson, Firehouse’s guitarist John Lindblom and multi-reedman Alberto Pinton, who plays in a band with Nordström, and guests on two tracks on MOMENT.

Broo and Ljungkvist are the Stockholm front-line for the band Atomic, whose Oslo rhythm section includes drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, who works with Firehouse’s bassist Johan Berthling and in American saxist Ken Vandermark’s School Days band that showcases Firehouse’s drummer Kjell Nordeson on vibes. Ljungkvist’s own quartet includes bass player Filip Augustson who fulfills that role in Nordström’s quintet here.

That said, both discs are very different, with MOMENT more enjoyable than LIVE. That’s because the non-standard chordal playing on the first comes from vibist Mattias Ståhl, whose confident solo and accompaniment work offers a more contemporary take on Gary Burton and Milt Jackson. LIVE’s extra man, and chief composer is twangy guitarist John Lindblom. While he too plays in the 12-piece unit with the others, on the live Glenn Miller Café disc, Lindblom seems to be a little too concerned with molding the others into an contemporary jazz-rock ensemble with his guitar as the lead voice.

This is particularly unfortunate on the CD’s two penultimate numbers. With up-the-scale finger picking he seems to push “Bright Lights, Clean Fights” towards being a whiny rock instrumental, with even Broo and Ljungkvist forced into amelodic slurs. “Inner Place, Outer Space” also isn’t as far out as the guitarist imagines it, since the piece ends up mostly being inner exploration of single note reverb backed by clinking cymbals as well as showoffy rhythm guitar licks that circle around the theme, but don’t seem to go anywhere.

Much more palatable are “Slow Glow” and “What I Say” which allow the quintet members to be heard at greater advantage. The first, a 10½-minute extravaganza, takes off at jet plane speed with Lindblom’s flanged reverb standing out from the consolidated horn lines and back beat drumming. Bouncing echoing notes off the club’s wall with the help of his foot pedals, the guitarist excites the crowd. Meanwhile Broo breaks his part up into partials. But when that brings out overloaded loop distortion and heavy ride cymbal and bass drum beats from Nordeson, he seems to think better of it, modulating his brassy triplets to a more standard configuration and forcing Lindblom to comp. Combining sax vibrations and trumpet smears, the two manage to produce double counterpoint that complements the guitarist’s cascading downward string stings.

Although “What I Say” threatens at the top to become another jazz-rock guitar exaggeration, it soon opens up into a balladic anthem, reminiscent of the sorts of compositions tenor saxist Pharoah Sanders and guitarist Sonny Sharrock were playing in the early 1970s. There are polytonal smears and screeches from the unison horns and emphasized press rolls and augmented ruffs and flams from the drummer. With a garbled tattoo from Broo and broken counterpoint from Ljungkvist, the piece almost splinters into pantonality. Luckily in the final two minutes everyone combines for an Ayleresque theme that remains together even as it jumps every which way. Broo heads into the Maynard Ferguson sanctioned stratosphere —something he may have picked up when he attended Texas State in the late 1980s — and the finale features the saxman growling, the guitarist strumming, and the trumpeter bending his notes.

Broo gets a better showcase on MOMENT, with his associates attached and attracted more to Freebop than any vestigial fusion notions. Nordström, who plays hard and heavy throughout with an octave jumping stutter in his tone, is one reason for this. The other is Ståhl, whose upbeat approach to the vibraphone anchors everything to the jazz tradition.

This is most obvious when the five turn out their version of Björk’s “The Modern Things” with no attempt to create a hip groove, a usual weakness of their American counterparts trying to play a contemporary pop number. Instead, the unison polyphonic build up sounds like updated 1950s West Coast jazz, which itself was popular in Scandinavia. Taken moderato, the horns produce double counterpoint on top of slight vibe shimmering. Later the saxman comes up with some irregularly vibrated notes collections, with the kind of smears and flutters that Sonny Rollins brought to balladic material like this around the same time. Broo starts with short, buzzy tones, then rides triplets into the higher register.

Ståhl’s partnership with Nordström is highlighted on tunes like “Discrete” and “Russian”, with four-mallet work — advancing the theme an accompanying. On the first the vibist advances the poetic interpretation by slowly down the motor to expand reverberations, while the saxman, in Sonny Rollins mode take the piece apart in small sections.

Augustson has a short solo there, but his showpiece is on “HD” — surely not named for the early 20th century American poetess — which reveals strong spiccato thumps and elongated tremolo bowing. Featuring some resonating double counterpoint from the horns, the almost 11-minute piece is a sophisticated, lope. Nordström’s light-toned tongue stops and pitch variations work their way up to stop time slurs, while Broo expels smeary, chromatic runs. All this is cushioned by the vibes, bass and drums.

Guest Pinton’s presence is only felt on a couple of tunes and even then his basement snorts and snarls are there for color and amplification of the lines rather than necessary musical nourishment.

Content to embellish the qualities of mainstream improv, the Scandinavians are most assured and most impressive when they stay away from showy indulgences. Collectively featuring 10 young players, these CDs codify more names with which international fans should be more familiar.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Moment: 1. No Longer 2. There’s Something Strange on the Carpet 3. Discrete 4. The Modern Things 5. Russian T 6. HD 7. Back to Back 8. Al’s Pint

Personnel: Moment: Magnus Broo (trumpet); Fredrik Nordström (tenor saxophone); Alberto Pinton (bass clarinet*, baritone saxophone+); Mattias Ståhl (vibes); Flip Augustson (bass); Fredrik Rundqvist (drums)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Cyklone Song 2. Slow Glow 3. Nothing Too Eccentric 4. Sing Song 5. Bright Lights, Clean Fights 6. Inner Place, Outer Space 7. What I Say

Personnel Live: Magnus Broo (trumpet); Fredrik Ljungkvist (tenor saxophone and clarinet); John Lindblom (guitar); Johan Berthling (bass); Kjell Nordeson (drums)