Sunday, 4 September 2016

Jan Lundgren, The Ystad Concert, A Tribute to Jan Johansson - ACT, 2016

This will be the first review after a very long break of almost four months. A long break caused by unbelievably stressful times we have been through this summer as Turkish people... I'm checking my notes on when I listened to this great album and I see 17th of June there. Music, especially jazz, has always been a very great healing effect on me and I want to leave the bad parts of past in the dust bin with this album and with these words that I have chosen in order to try to express my feelings against its excellency. Let's forget bad people doing bad things for this world and endorse beautiful people of art and music!

The first obvious demonstration of Swedish jazz concept goes back to 60's when Jan Johansson's legendary album Jazz på Svenska was released. Although there is no certain boundaries for this sub-genre and it is indeed in its definition to remove boundaries for jazz, we can easily say it is improvisational music based on Swedish folk themes and diversified with classical music mostly on piano in past and currently with several electronics adds and rock influences. Although Swedish jazz seems to be a sub-genre of Nordic jazz, I need to mention that the concept, which Jan Johansson introduced and proved to be an internationally acclaimed one, is the real inspiration for the whole Scandinavian jazz sound. The pianist Jan Lundgren is among prominent musicians in Swedish jazz scene now and we can say that he is in the acoustic side of the genre which is very close to what it was like in Johansson's time. He is very active with several collaborations as well as with his own trio. His trio albums Swedish Standards & European Standards and Mare Nostrum series with Paolo Fresu and Richard Galliano have been internationally well known albums from the label ACT, which has more than 100 Swedish jazz albums in its 20 years history. Jan Lundgren has also been the artistic director of a very young but iconic jazz festival in south of Sweden called Ystad Jazz Festival.

For me, titled as a tribute to Jan Johansson, released in memory of recently deceased Bengt-Arne Wallin, recorded live in Ystad Jazz Festival, performed with his long time collaboration Mattias Svensson and colourized by a string quartet, this album of Jan Lundgren is a brief story of what the pianist has been doing and feeling about the roots and the future of Swedish jazz. Jan Lundgren is holding our hands in this story while we are walking through Jan Johansson's foot prints in Swedish snow which is garnished by Russian and Hungarian folks, namely Jazz på Svenska (1964), Jazz på Ryska (1967) and Jazz på Ungerska (1967) setting the basis of tracks and arrangements in the album. 


As mentioned in George Riedel's liner notes for the album, the unique sound of Jan Lundgren's style is recognizable just from first few notes of the first track Emigrantvisa - a modest but shiny technique and controlled sound with a very well balanced reverberation of the Ystad Teater. Gånglek från Älvdalen is probably the most jazzy arrangement and performance of the album thanks to many dialogues between Lundgren and Svensson connecting main melody supplied by strings accompaniment. 

The performance of a very well known and catchy tune of Swedish Folk, Polska från Medelpad is a good example of how the string arrangements of Martin Berggren suited very well with the piano partitions. Mattias Svensson's solo parts in continually following Polska efter Höök Olle, which is full of pull-offs in ultra-low frequencies shaking my living room, is really impressive. Berg-Kirstis Polska is connected to previous piece with a bass introduction and continues with interesting metronome changes triggered by the piano. The ever evolving structure carrying jazzy hints suddenly stops and fades into a short magic piano part in the end.  

The first track of Russian series, Bandura dives as a duo performance into minors of mostly melancholics feelings and it is followed by string accompanied Kvällar i Moskvas förstäder, which lifts the feeling into a more hopeful state.

På ängen stod en björk is certainly my favourite performance from the album especially with its introduction with groovy double bass and the following both naive and energetic piano fueled by Bonfiglioli Weber String Quartet with a gradually increasing intensity. The rise and fall of the tension in this performance is amazingly inspirational pushing you to run in green fields.   
Det går en kosack is like a classical intermission in the middle of the album with its almost complete string performance, whose last part is skillfully transformed by Jan Lundgren into the one of the most famous Russian melodies, Stepp min stepp. An epic solo piano introduction for an epic theme is then accompanied by the double bass. The string quartet adds another layer of excellency to this great performance.  

Hungarian part starts with a touchy duo performance, Det snöar. Mattias Svensson is the MVP of this dialogue with his great solo travelling easily between high and low registers. Det vore synd att dö än is introduced by Lundgren and Bonfiglioli Weber String Quartet (Claudia Bonfiglioli / violin Daniela Bonfiglioli / violin Karolina Weber Ekdahl / viola Charlotta Weber Widerström / cello) and continued by the whole team. It sounds like classical music dancing with jazz swing. 

Then there comes probably the most well known Swedish folk tune of Jan Johansson's Jazz på Svenska, Visa från Utanmyra. The piano is certainly played by a pianist whose first name is Jan. One hand belongs to the one with the second name Johansson and the other belongs to the other Jan: Jan Lundgren. Closing your eyes you can see them both on the piano.  

Lycklig resa is the only Jan Lundgren composition in the album and this is reflected in its modern style nourished with a wide influence of an overall European sound and American groove. The way our pianist plays the main theme and the locations of other instruments in the performance give some ideas to us about the contribution of Jan Lundgren to Jan Johansson's music throughout the album.   

Slängpolska efter Byss-Kalle is another Scandinavian folk tune which is very well arranged and performed so that it sounds both jazz and classical. The dialogues between strings and piano are longer compared to previous performances in this long track.

The last number Här kommer Pippi Långstrump is a very famous Jan Johansson's tune, which also triggers the audience to keep up with the rhythm for a while. Its hopeful and joyful energy seems to have spread through the performance hall giving a very good end to this amazing concert.

The album was recorded by P2 Swedish Radio (Bertil Karlsson and Berngt Pettersson) on July 30th 2015 in Ystad Teater during Ystad Jazz Festival. The mastering is made by Arne Schumann.

This is certainly one of the best jazz albums came from European jazz scene in 2016 and it will find a high number in my best jazz albums 2016 list.