June 2, 2019
Clean Feed CF 496CD
Odin Records CD 9568
Pushing aside the clichés which describe so-called Nordic Jazz as cold and torpid, these Scandinavian units prove that some shibboleths are as legit as Donald Trump’s views on those nations’ health care. The long-established Atomic quintet and saxophonist Fredrik Nordstöm’s ad-hoc double quartet create contemporary mainstream sounds with the same warmth and grace that could come from any band situated on any point of the compass.
As a point of interest both groups include the tenor saxophone and clarinet of Swede Fredrik Ljungkvist, whose transformative reed power in many registers helps move both sessions along. At the same time Pet Variations and Needs differ in more than number of players featured. The former is an album of mostly covers by composers ranging from Jimmy Giuffre and Carla Bley to Brian Wilson and Edgard Varèse, by a group, filled out by Swedish trumpeter Magnus Broo and three Norwegians: pianist Håvard Wiik, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Hans Hulbœkmo. On the other hand Needs’ tracks were all composed by Swedish tenor/baritone saxophonist Nordstöm, who has been recording for the same length of time as Atomic and over the years has worked with the likes of Gerald Cleaver and Palle Danielsson. The rest of the all-Swedish aggregation is trumpeter Niklas Barnö, trombonist Mats Äleklint, plus dual bassists Filip Augustson and Torbjörn Zetterberg and double drummers Christopher Cantillo and Fredrik Rundqvist.
While rugged blowing from the two saxophonists often take on bagpipe-like undulations and the cinched rhythms from the bass-drum teams propel a gutsy interface, it’s Äleklint’s domineering trombone strategies which stand out. Rightly showcased on tunes such as “House of Tales”, “Hope” and especially “Hometown Prophet”, he brings a Mingus-combo-like blustery syncopation to his work. On “Hometown Prophet” for instance his funky tremolo slide swirls rumble stunningly alongside Nordstöm’s near-R&B baritone sax slurps and Barnö’s bright skyscraper-high lines, with his asides coloring the others’ solos and adding to the hypnotic swing defined by the rhythm section. Clamorous trombone flutter tones provide a vamping backdrop to Ljungkvist’s subtle clarinet glissandi on “House of Tales” with the dual modulation and a tenor saxophone obbligato creating a squirming narrative. It’s the clarinetist who provides the obbligato on “Hope”, in a pace-making duet with Äleklint’s energetic and intense growling, so that when Ljungkvist breaks free to escalate to high note split tones that effect is that much more dramatic. That said the rest of the octet members playing is also at high levels, with agreeable interludes with multiphonic peeps, laughs, screeches and layered pops from the horns as well as connective vamps when needed plus enough double bass slaps and drum spirit to deftly move the tracks forward.
There’s a similar amount of motion and rhythm on Pet Variations, yet the quintet members also score with reinterpretations of familiar themes. For instance one is certain that Varèse didn’t imagine his “. Un Grand Sommeil Noir” as a sleek Latineque piece with a bowing bass exposition, rim shot decorations from Hulbœkmo and the melody propelled by high-pitched, delicate breaths from Broo. In the same manner Steve Lacy’s “Art” become more linear than usual with harmonized horns giving way to Wiik’s surging stiff chording that is more attuned to the 19th than the 21st Century and the ending more rondo than raucous; while the familiar strains of Bley’s “Walking Woman” are left to a mid-section, following a biting tenor saxophone push and exiting snarls from the horns. Jan Garbarek’s reputation producing cerebral frost may be altered since the band unearthed “Karin's Mode”, a very early composition which is given a 1970s Fusion treatment with drum claps, thwacking bass lines and eddying horn murmurs that almost link this final track with the reflective invention of track one, “Pet Variations/Pet Sounds”. And if Gabarek’s secret funk is revealed in that performance than percussive syncopation emanates from Atomic’s version of Alexander von Schlippenbach’s “Inri” which treats the dour German’s tune as if it was a Cannonball Adderley outtake. Ratcheting drum breaks, free-flowing Impressionism from the pianist and Ljungkvist’s slap tongue theme shredding but opaque blowing from Broo keeps the funk rolling.
Like all clichés it’s obvious that Nordic Cool is just that. Certainly these discs prove that the equivalent of eruptive lava is available from the area’s music as well,
Track Listing: Pet: 1. Pet Variations/Pet Sounds 2 Art 3. Walking Woman 4. Un Grand Sommeil Noir 5. Cry Want 6. Louange à l'Éternité de Jésus 7. Inri 8. Karin's Mode
Personnel: Pet: Magnus Broo (trumpet); Fredrik Ljungkvist (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Håvard Wiik (piano); Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (bass) and Hans Hulbœkmo (drums)
Track Listing: Needs: 1. Needs 2. Fake Face 3. House of Tales 4. Hometown Prophet 5. Hope 6. Brand New Dollars 7. Morning Bliss
Personnel: Needs: Niklas Barnö (trumpet); Mats Äleklint (trombone); Fredrik Nordström (tenor and baritone saxophones); Fredrik Ljungkvist (tenor saxophone and clarinet); Torbjörn Zetterberg and Filip Augustson (bass); Christopher Cantillo and Fredrik Rundqvist (drums)