PER HENRIK WALLIN

Burning In Stockholm
Atavistic Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP 249 CD

PER HENRIK WALLIN
The Stockholm Tapes
Ayler ayl CD-032

One of the most respected Swedish improvisers, pianist Per Henrik Wallin, born in Karlsborg in 1946, is young enough to be part of the first generation of players who adapted the advances of Free Jazz to their own purposes. At the same time he’s old enough to have internalized earlier traditions of jazz piano from stride masters like Willie “The Lion” Smith to Thelonious Monk’s rhythmic and time breakthroughs – and able to bring them out when he wishes.

You can hear that on these CDs made up of previous unreleased live sessions by two different Wallin trios in what was arguably his most influential period of the late 1970s, early 1980s. A serious accident in 1988 sidelined him for a while, but he was back in form by the end of the last century, recording with a young firebrand like saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and winning a top Swedish jazz prize in 2003.

Each threesome represented here couldn’t be more different. Recorded in 1975 and 1977, THE STOCKHOLM TAPES finds the pianist in his original bass-less trio, featuring low-key drummer Peter Olsen and alto saxophonist. Lars-Göran Ulander, now chief producer for Swedish Broadcasting Corp.’s jazz department. Recorded in 1981, BURNING IN STOCKHOLM features Wallin in a more familiar trio setting. However rather than his usual bassist Torbjörn Hultcrantz, the pianist and his longtime drummer Erik Dahlbäck are joined by expatriate South African Johnny Dyani (1945-1986), whose experience encompassed work with the British Brotherhood of Breath band and American trumpeter Don Cherry.

“Jive in July -75, Live” and “This Time Is Next Time Now”, THE STOCKHOLM TAPES’ final selection, contains the meat of session, especially where Ulander is concerned. Improvising in a classic Ornette Coleman mold on the former, the saxman’s playing is alive with acrid, writhing lines double- and flutter tongued. As his ideas flow, he narrows his tone so that darting semitone and sudden overblowing are on show. Out of admiration or respect, Wallin doesn’t even begin playing until the first tune is one-third over.

At that point the interaction intensifies. Left-handed ripples from the pianist meet wavering split tones, false fingering and vibrated pitches from the saxophonist, as Olsen smacks his snares and toms and rattles his cymbals. Although Ulander’s tone turns legato and moderato for a time three-quarters of the way through, the final section resonates with a cappella body tube squeaks, with the final 90 seconds pinponging between shrilling abstract multiphonics and stentorian resonation.

More of the same feeling enlivens “This Time Is Next Time Now”. But on this tune, as the reedist spurts and honks sideslipping note examinations, the pianoman responds with pile driver left handed chords followed by right handed glancing key tinkles. Here the post-Trane echoes are paramount, as Ulander’s sharp, snapping note accents accelerate to glossolalia. Wallin’s rejoinder somehow manages to combine McCoy Tyner-like modal action, Monk-like key pummeling and two-handed Jerry Lee Lewis-like rocking boogie piano.

In contrast however, the first selections, recorded two years later, seem wan. For some reason the saxist spends most of his time twittering, with the drummer contributing muffled paradiddles at key points. Chameleon-like, Wallin leaps from influence to influence throughout, showcasing tough, modal Tyner-like styling, Dave Brubeckian hammering, whirling Keith Jarrett-inflected harmonies and passages that could be from MAIDEN VOYAGE-era Herbie Hancock. Other influences that surface include arpeggio-rich cadences played with Art Tatum-like speed, and a sub-theme that threatens to become “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”.

All this free association pianism is put to good use accompanying the odd crunching rumble from Olsen and Ulander’s altissimo excursions and peeping phrasing. But Wallin reaches even further into his bag of tricks for the 49-minute TGV ride that is BURNING IN STOCKHOLM.

Challenged by drummer Dahlbäck’s doubled bounces and cymbal rattles plus Dyani’s vigorous string repercussions, Wallin’s soloing is more complex, and references so many influences that at times listeners could be playing name that tune, style or pianist.

Beginning with circular, near-modal runs that reflect Tyner, he quickly introduces two-handed contrasting dynamics à la Cecil Taylor, just as swiftly superseded by flashing octaves that don’t neglect the piano’s lower quadrant. Overcoming the bassist’s plucked accompaniment he briefly inveigles a roosty version of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, and then gradually abstracts the melody. On top of Dyani’s steady pulse he puts many notes to use, suggesting then offhandedly moving past fragments of many jazz standards, “Misty” and “Lullaby of Birdland” among them.

Dahlbäck’s minimalistic rolls push Wallin into full gospel mode for a couple of minutes, then he moderates down to stab out more standard hard-bop lines in a Ray Bryant-Ramsey Lewis fashion. Turning to a stride section, modernized with broken chords, Wallin’s versatility forces the drummer to sound his cowbell and lay on the back beat, aided by the slightly over-recorded bass line. One-third of the way through, Wallin reintroduces the theme, first with bebop runs, then hammered out gospelish, and finally with a boogie-woogie tinge. Cascading into variations on “America” from West Side Story, he coats the melody with an overlay of cascading notes, adding pedal pressure as Dyani offers his theme variations.

Barely skirting Oscar Peterson-like cross handed excesses, Wallin slows down to walking bass and ornamental semi-stride jabs before trying out a ballad interlude in the piece’s penultimate minutes. Swirling around the bassist’s double stops and the drummer’s press rolls, he progressively accelerates the tempo, suggesting that Peterson and Taylor’s styles aren’t that dissimilar. Monkish key clipping presage a false climax, with the finale a “Hymn To Freedom” style flourish that brings out rapturous applause.

No misnomer, the trio was certainly “burning in Stockholm”, with this CD and the other, confirming that these hitherto unknown works by Wallin deserves to be heard.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Burning: 1. Burning In Stockholm

Personnel Burning: Per Henrik Wallin (piano); Johnny Dyani (bass); Erik Dahlbäck (drums)

Track Listing: Tapes: 1. E.V. 2. Wuppertal 3. A Jive in July -75, Live! 4. This Time Is Next Time Now

Personnel: Tapes: Lars-Göran Ulander (alto saxophone); Per Henrik Wallin (piano); Peter Olsen (drums)