Jazz was on the downswing in Europe in 1966, when this amiable recording was made, and trombonist Eje Thelin, whose quintet was named Sweden's best Jazz group only three years earlier, had been forced to disband and go on the road looking for steady work. While gigging in Paris he hooked up with tenor saxophonist Barney Wilen, a kindred soul, and the two of them decided they should work together again when the opportunity arose. That happened in '66 when Thelin decided to re-form his group as a pianoless quartet and asked Wilen to join him on the front line, with drummer Rune Carlsson and nineteen-year-old bassist Palle Danielsson comprising the rhythm section.
Shortly after Wilen arrived in Stockholm, he and Thelin recorded a studio date for Swedish Radio on which a core group of Thelin, Wilen, Carlsson, bassist Erik Lundborg and pianist Lars Sjösten was fleshed out by five trumpets, three trombones, bass clarinet and flute (tracks 1-4). While in hindsight the music seems largely straightforward and ingenuous, it was perhaps cutting-edge for its time, especially in Europe. Thelin shows he's on a par with Sweden's other world-class trombonist, Åke Persson, while his compatriot is already leaning toward such soon-to-be pacesetters as Americans Sam Rivers and Von Freeman, Dutchman Willem Breuker, Norwegian Jan Garbarek and Brit Tony Coe, among others.
The quartet (tracks 5-9), recorded in concert, opens with its version of Thelin's "Doj-Doj," which is also performed by the larger group on track 3. Thelin is able to stretch more with the quartet, as is Wilen, and they deliver a series of analytical improvisations that remain surprisingly fresh so many years onward. The litmus test is Johnny Burke / Jimmy Van Heusen's "It Could Happen to You," as that's the only standard on the program, and Thelin / Wilen are equal to the task, blowing freely around the changes without once losing their balance. Danielsson and Carlsson provide able support, as they do on every number. Besides those already named, they include Thelin's "To a Moment of Truth" and "Fast," plus Sjösten's lively arrangement of the traditional Swedish theme "Ack Varmeland du Sköna."
An interesting historical – and musical – glance at a couple of top-of-the-line jazz musicians who left us far too soon (Thelin died in 1990, Wilen in 1996).
Contact: Dragon Records, P.O. Box 4068, SE-102 62 Stockholm, Sweden; www.dragonrecords.se