While eleven musicians are named in the album’s booklet, only five comprise the core unit on Ulf Bandgren’s perceptively drawn Nordic Sketches, and the harmonious interplay among them is a pleasure to hear. Bandgren’s expressive guitar, acoustic or electric, traverses the landscape with smooth, colorful strokes while the others in his quintet (and from time to time a six–member company of brass and reeds) consummate his well–proportioned tone poems. It’s not music to raise one’s hackles but flows to an unpretentiously mellow groove that produces its own rewards. The eight songs are Bandgren’s, and each one is agreeably symmetrical and musically impressive. The brass and reeds make their first appearance on track 2, “Nimba,” and provide further melodic adornment on “Bugs,” “Neptunus” (which opens with a tasteful unaccompanied choral section for the ensemble before Bandgren and the quintet make their entrance), “Waltz from Koster” and the bluesy “You Know When You Got It.” Bandgren’s lissome guitar and Anders Jormin’s resonant arco bass set the tone on the pensive finale, “Vitra,” on which they impart earnest sentiments while colleagues Peter Burman, Anders Persson and Terje Sundby furnish listening ears and resourceful hands, as they do on every selection. One of them (I assume it’s Persson, as he’s listed on piano, Burman on “keyboards”) is a strong soloist as well, showing that ability rather quickly on the opening “Sketch.” The music is quite Nordic in temperament, with a deceptively cool veneer shielding a much warmer nucleus that is closest to its heart. Even though the warmth isn’t always conspicuous, it is no less exhilarating when one uncovers it.
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Track Listing: Sketch; Nimba; Bugs; Neptunus; Another Story; Waltz from Koster; You Know When You Got It; Vitra (49:10).
Personnel: Ulf Bandgren, composer; acoustic, electric guitar; Lennart Grahn, Robin Rydqvist, trumpet, flugelhorn; Tomas Jonsson, tenor, soprano sax; Joakim Rolandsson, alto, baritone sax; Niclas Rydh, trombone, bass trombone; Christer Olofsson, trombone, euphonium; Peter Burman, keyboards, arranger; Anders Persson, piano; Anders Jormin, bass; Terje Sundby, drums.