When asked about the difference between American and European jazz, most artists in the know will say that the lines have become so blurred as to make the distinction pointless. Performers on both side of the Atlantic now liberally blend the elements of swing and free music, so commonly associated with the American tradition, with the impressionism and classical influences tied to the European movement. Dave Douglas is a strong case in point, as is Swedish saxophonist Fredrik Nordstrom, whose new quintet recording, Moment , could easily have been recorded in New York instead of Stockholm.
The parallel to Douglas is, in fact, a strong one for a number of reasons. While both artists lean towards original compositions, they are not averse to taking on music by contemporary artists, in particular Bjork, whose "The Modern Things" receives a modern treatment by Nordstrom. Revealing itself gradually, Nordstrom and trumpeter Magnus Broo slowly build the melody over vibraphonist Mattias Stahl's ambient backdrop before the rhythm section kicks in with a fiercely loose middle section that underpins confident and outer-reaching solos by Nordstrom and Broo. Drummer Fredrik Rundqvist is like a younger Joey Baron, with a playful sense of swing only heightened by his exploratory verve.
Nordstrom's first quintet record, On Purpose , came as the result of his winning the 2002 Swedish Jazz Prize, and rightfully so. Like Douglas, his compositions manage to blend elements of new music, free jazz and even some more contemporary rhythms into a unique take. His writing often consists of simple sketches to give the group a starting point; still, he is able to imbue longer pieces like "HD" with a sense of development that implies a stronger compositional focus. His tone on tenor is robust, with an approach that is rooted in post-Ornette territory, but with a melodic bent that makes his work all the more compelling.
The rest of the group is equally captivating, but Stahl is clearly the one to watch. With a style that is sometimes reminiscent of Bobby Hutcherson's '60s work at its most oblique, he manages to create a backdrop that provides a focus while, at the same time, remaining ambiguous enough not to lock the soloists down harmonically. On two tracks the quintet is augmented by Nordstrom's co-leader in his Dog Out project, Alberto Pinton, who contributes a fiery baritone solo on "Al's Pint." But this record is really about the quintet who, with a couple of years of playing behind them, is operating more in each others' pockets. Nordstrom and Broo seem to know exactly where each other is going; Rundqvist and bassist Filip Augustson make the rhythm elastic, but they always provide a firm anchor.
Nordstrom's reputation in Sweden is established; now it's time for him to go to the next level and seek a broader audience outside his country. Albums like Moment are simply too good not to share with the rest of the world.
Personnel: Fredrik Nordstrom (tenor saxophone), Magnus Broo (trumpet), Mattias Stahl (vibraphone), Filip Augustson (bass), Fredrik Rundqvist (drums)
Special Guest: Alberto Pinton (contrabass clarinet on "There's Something Strange on the Carpet," baritone saxophone on "Al's Pint")