LARS-GÖRAN ULANDER TRIO

Live at Glenn Miller Café
Ayler aylCD 013

WBZ
Prima Ballerina
Ilk Music 117 CD

Veteran Scandinavian saxophonists are the focal point of both these trio sessions. But while PRIMA BALLERINA is the first document from a well-balanced Danish sax-bass-drums aggregation that has been playing together constantly since 2002, LIVE is a one-off club date that is actually a Swedish reedist’s first headlining session, and where his rhythm section partners are far better known then he.

Umeå-born alto saxophonist Lars-Göran Ulander’s day job is as chief jazz radio producer for the Swedish Broadcasting Corp. He also played in different bands over the years, most notably in the 1960s and 1970s with trombonist Lars Lystedt and pianist Per Henrik Wallin. But after 40 years of recording, this is the initial CD released under his own name. Look at his backing dream team however. Young Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love has in a short time become the go-to percussionists for leaders on both sides of the Atlantic from Chicago reedist Ken Vandermark to British saxophonist Evan Parker. As for Stockholm-native, bassist Palle Danielsson, he was a member of the touring bands of Americans, pianist Keith Jarrett and saxophonist Charles Lloyd in the 1970s, and now works all over Europe.

While the Ulander trio’s five compositions flow semi-smoothly, WBZ propels its eight tunes in jagged bursts and bites. WBZ’s experienced soloist is alto saxophonist Jesper Zeuthen, who has performed in Pierre Dørge’s New Jungle Orchestra and with Americans such as the late trumpeter Don Cherry. Almost 30 years younger than Zeuthen, bassist Jonas Westergaard is part of Canadian saxophonist Michael Blake’s band and played with Americans such as saxophonist Tim Berne. Drummer Peter Bruun is a member of the local band Radar and has recorded with saxophonists Blake, Chris Speed and others.

An autodidact who studied Schoenberg and Hindemith on his own, Ulander has the force of personality on this CD to pilot a mid-course between the 1970s northerly cool undulations that the bassist prefers and the harder-hitting and more abstract tropes of the drummer. On “Charles Mingus’ “What Love”, the set’s one non-original, he gets Nilssen-Love to slap and pat his accompaniment while using Danielsson’s double bass as if it was a second harmonized horn. With a surprisingly gentle touch, the bull fiddler maintains the rhythmic pulse as the saxophonist layers scads of pitch-sliding notes into his solo. Still, despite later rebounds and rim shots from the drummer, Ulander never loses his cool. Here, as elsewhere, even when harshly reed biting or squealing through his horn’s body tube his exposition rarely moves past andante.

Oddly enough, the one time his Nordic reserves snaps is when he unveils warbling Jackie MacLean-like note-spraying on the nearly 22-minute “Ionizacion – Varaciones E.V.” Double tonguing and utilizing altissimo smears, his playing energizes Danielsson, whose quick double-stopping relates more to Mingus on tunes like “Haitian Fight Song” then how he plays on this CD’s “What Love”.

Elsewhere Ulander impresses as he keeps up this balancing act that allows him to sound waves of harmonics that never reach multiphonic properties, as focused split tones and effortless obbligatos arrive with equal vigor.

If the nearly 75-minute LIVE is the Free Jazz equivalent of a double LP by Simon & Garfunkel or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, then WBZ’s disc is like hearing something by the Sex Pistols or the Ramones for the first time. Energetic and intense, the three manage to pack eight tunes into fewer than 35 minutes.

While all contribute to the excitement on PRIMA BALLERINA, titular frontman Zeuthen stands out. It’s not just that he plays the traditional solo instrument it’s also his unique tone on the alto saxophone. Closer in timbre to the soprano then the larger sax, he seems to use a combination of striated tones and choked pitches to create a distinctive, nasal sound that also resembles the ney or the musette.

Writhing, sputtering, fluttering and honking in false registers, his vibrations spur different responses from the other two. Sometimes Brunn rolls and thumps as if he was in a rock band, other times he turns to feathery brushes accompaniment to complement horn patterning and clean, ringing bass slides. Westergaard rarely backs up the others as much as he swells out restrained counterpoint usually in a tag-team with the saxman, but sometime with the drummer.

Occasionally, as on “Destruction Dirt Box”, Zeuthen alters the tonal centre to such an extent that without warning the descending bass line and slapped drum bits are playing at a slower pace then what went before, without turning the beat around. Then the reedist’s near palsied vibrato brings the tempo up again.

One of these sessions gives an under-acknowledged reed man his place in the sun. The other introduces a new hell-for-leather group of improvisers. Both are worth investigating.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Live: 1. Tabula Rasa G.M.C. 2, Intrinsic Structure I 3. What Love 4. Ionizacion – Varaciones E.V. 5. J.C. Drops

Personnel: Live: Lars-Göran Ulander (alto saxophone); Palle Danielsson (bass); Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)

Track Listing: Prima: 1. Opti/Mopti 2. Prima Ballerina 3. Assembling 4. No. 4 5. Destruction Dirt Box 6. Kreutzer Valse 7. Den 8. Plage 8. Mask

Personnel: Prima: Jesper Zeuthen (alto saxophone); Jonas Westergaard (bass); Peter Bruun (drums)