Now and again an album appears that, in its gentle simplicity and unassuming veracity, makes a strong impact as much by virtue of all the things it is not as by all the things it is. Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius, heard on this session solely on classical guitar, clearly has the knowledge and ability to produce an album that highlights his formidable technique and rich harmonic knowledge. Instead, however, he has chosen to release Forever You , an album that is characterized by a quiet grace and unadorned melodism. But it takes an artist with a broad musical vision and stylistic depth to make a recording this pure, this chaste. As such it stands out as an instant classic, an album that in all its subtlety is more emotionally profound and evocative than the plethora of recordings that may be more immediately impressive for their displays of technique, but are nowhere near as compelling.
Wakenius, whose clear understanding of the tradition has made him first call guitarist in recent years for pianist Oscar Peterson and the late bassist Ray Brown, is an artist who, while clearly rooted in that tradition, is no anachronism. His modern lyricism and clear playing style has also been found in collaboration with artists as diverse as saxophonist Michael Brecker, keyboardist/composer Jon Balke, percussionist Trilok Gurtu and guitarist Pat Metheny. Accompanied on this session by Swedish bassist/cellist/pianist Lars Danielsson and Danes Carsten Dahl on piano and Morten Lund on drums and percussion, the mood takes, as its starting point, the ambience of tunes like Metheny's classic "Farmer's Trust" and "Always and Forever," the latter a piece that Wakenius covers beautifully.
The programme is a blend of originals, standards and lesser-known tunes, starting off with Danielsson's elegant and tranquil title track before moving into the more Argentinean-informed "Buenos Aires." "Arirang" is a Korean traditional tune with a naive theme that provides a relaxed backdrop for Dahl's gospel-inflected piano solo, bringing to mind Keith Jarrett in his early days. Wakenius treats "All the Things You Are" as a solo guitar piece, demonstrating that with taste and a modest yet sophisticated conception, a well-heeled standard such as this can be given new life.
And while the music is what one should come for, it is clear that the whole effort is a labour of love for Wakenius, right down to the aesthetic packaging and simple but exquisite booklet. In a time where the future of music distribution through digital downloading is being bantered about, it's encouraging to find artists who still feel that, while the music is ultimately paramount, the beauty of presentation is an important part of the art.
Wakenius' record may not impress those who need overt displays of technique or sharp edges in their music, but for a sense of musicianship at its purist, where the essence of the material is key and the truth of every note is supreme, Forever You is an essential recording and clearly one of the best of 2004.
Personnel: Ulf Wakenius: acoustic guitar; Carsten Dahl: acoustic piano; Lars Danielsson: acoustic bass, piano, cello; Morten Lund: drums, percussion.