The Kjell Jansson Quartet: Zonk (2003)
I don’t know how many jazz groups in Sweden are able to make a decent living, but judging from the number of albums that have recently emerged from that snow-swept country, a large number are evidently trying. Coincidentally, Zonk is the second disc I’ve reviewed within a week that consists entirely of original compositions by the leader in this case bassist Kjell Jansson except for Vernon Duke’s “I Can’t Get Started.” The other was pianist Ronny Johansson’s Jubilee (Imogena 2003). The Swedes must have a special fondness for that melody.
Zonk, Jansson’s fourth album as leader or co-leader, was recorded in concert last August at the Gerlesborg School of Fine Arts. The audience may have been asked to remain quiet and hold its applause until the end of each number, since it does exactly that. If there was any verbal communication with the audience between numbers, it has been excised. The music itself is cleanly articulated but not without spontaneity or passion, and Jansson and his mates comprise a talented post-bop unit that acquits itself well on every number.
Jansson’s compositions are more than window-dressing, serving as provocative springboards for lively and rewarding improvisation by each member of the group. There’s humor too, as on “Ant Steps,” which Jansson describes as “an abbreviation of the famous Coltrane title, ‘Giant Steps’.” Tenor saxophonist Gilbert Holmström sits in for Trane, scurrying through the changes in a manner reminiscent of Joe Lovano, Don Braden, Branford Marsalis, Joshua Redman and other well-known post-boppers.
Holmström and drummer Rune Carlsson take a coffee break on “I Can’t Get Started” and “In the Shadow,” where pianist Tommy Kotter plays counterpoint to Jansson’s resonant arco bass. The leader wrote “In the Shadow” as a tribute to Duke Ellington’s legendary bassist Jimmy Blanton; he says “I Can’t Get Started” has been a favorite song of his since he heard it performed by Charles Mingus, also in a duo setting.
“Zonk” is a sixteen-bar blues theme, “Italian Wood” a groover whose title acknowledges its resemblance to the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood.” Jansson wrote the lovely “Morgon” (Morning), introduced by Kotter’s expressive piano, as an homage to nature; the groovy “Movin’ East” denotes the quartet’s move from its home in Gothenburg to a more rural location nearby. “Bassistic” is a thirty-two bar blues composed from the bass rather than the piano, “For My Lady” an ardent love song to Jansson’s wife of more than thirty years.
The quartet earns high marks for resourcefulness and craftsmanship, the album for its excellent sound and generous playing time. This is on a par with much of the contemporary small-group music being played in this country. I hope these deserving gentlemen can find a steady gig.
Track Listing: Zonk; Italian Wood; The Pearl; In the Shadow; Ant Steps; Morgon (Morning); Movin
Personnel: Kjell Jansson, bass; Tommy Kotter, piano; Rune Carlsson, drums (except 4, 8); Gilbert Holmstr