Recorded in 1997, Music Box is the first album by pianist Stefan Karlsson’s trio (Tom Warrington, bass; Ed Soph, drums), which is hard to believe in light of their conspicuous rapport and the high level of musicianship throughout. The talented threesome has since recorded a second album, No Place to Go But Up, and backed a number of other groups for Las Vegas–based TNC Jazz. Whereas No Place to Go featured the music of composer Kurt Weill, Music Box is comprised of eight original works by Karlsson, in–depth descriptions of which are included in the program notes, as is TNC’s custom. Karlsson explains further the rationale behind two of them (“Illusions,” “Blue Sky”) in a brief interview with annotator Ken Hanlon that follows the last instrumental number. The trio is heard alone on four selections and with tenor saxophonist Marc Solis and trumpeter Rocky Winslow (“Infinite”); alto saxophonist Phil Wigfall (“Piece of Mind,” flute on “Trikings”); Solis, Winslow and Wigfall (“Illusions”). Much of Karlsson’s music is melodious and pleasant; things get out of hand only on “Infinite,” which he points out is “as close as I get to free Jazz.” Much too close, to be perfectly honest — and at more than fourteen minutes, much too long as well (seeming almost as long as its name). Happily, that represents Karlsson’s only lapse; the rest of the program is far more agreeable (although Wigfall’s solos on “Piece of Mind” and “Illusions” are less than riveting). Karlsson, as we wrote in reviewing No Place to Go But Up, is an accomplished post–bop pianist in the lineage of such giants as Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans and deserves to be more widely heard. On Music Box, he shows great promise as a composer too, especially on the good–natured swingers “Three in Four,” “Smilin’ Eyes” and “Decisions” and the tender ballad “Blue Sky” (each played by the trio alone). The energetic “Illusions” is another winner, with ripping solos by Karlsson and Winslow accentuating typically indomitable support from Warrington and Soph, as is the lovely “Trikings” (with Wigfall much more harmonious on flute). Although the other tracks (“Infinite,” “Illusions”) are less successful, everyone deserves high marks for energy and enthusiasm, and Karlsson’s colorful Music Box contains more than enough splendid music to earn an explicit endorsement.
Contact: TNC Jazz, 1350 E. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas, NV 89119. Phone 702–457–3823; fax 702–457–0199. Web site, www.tncmusic.net; e–mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Track Listing: A Three in Four; Smilin’ Eyes; Blue Sky; Infinite; Piece of Mind; Decisions; Illusions; Trikings; Stefan Karlsson interviewed by Ken Hanlon (72:01).
Personnel: Stefan Karlsson, piano; Tom Warrington, bass; Ed Soph, drums. Guest artists — Marc Solis (4, 7), tenor sax; Phil Wigfall alto sax (5, 7), flute (8); Rocky Winslow (4, 7), trumpet.