Bobo Stenson: A Discography
As a leader, he is an alchemist who can extract, expose, and elevate the essence of a composition. Stenson's intensity is quite reserved, and the resulting impact of his music is cumulative rather than showy. A solo might never get very loud or fast, butespecially in trio settings, where his partners pick up his growing flamethe music can become dense and extroverted before falling back.
Stenson's music is based on space. Each note almost always has some space around it, separating it from its neighbors, creating the feeling of calm and of not rushing, no matter how fast the notes are played. The dynamics of the notes in a line can vary widely, and many times he plays a "ghost" note that is just hinted, which is idiomatic saxophone phrasing.
His phrases twist and turn, changing direction without warning, but which always move forward toward a goal, thus leading the listener but never being predictable. Finally, his sense of time is so strong that he can play out of time when there is a pulse, yet keep the sense of connection to the beat, and also play in time when there is no clear pulse, maintaining the tension that results.
What is always fascinating to observe is the web of musical and personal relationships that develop over such a long career.
The releases below are dated as follows: release (recording).
As a Leader
As A Sideman
As a Leader
Bobo Stenson Trio
Goodbye is the fourth ECM recording by Stenson in a trio and the first with Paul Motian in the drum chair. To even maintain much less supercede the quality and intensity of the music on Serenity would be quite a task. The music of Goodbye seems a bit more approachable, less "abstract" and more melodic than that of Serentiy without sacrificing any of the intensity of the trio.
Starting the disc with "Send In The Clowns" feels like a statement of purpose, as if Stenson is saying, "listen to the core of the tune: this is my art." The very essence of this well known tune, melodically, harmonically as well as emotionally is distilled out, producing its very nectar. "Race Face," which ends the disc is obviously a Stenson favorite, since he recorded it on Dona Nostra (1993) and revisits it here. Its mood is decidedly different, more American jazz if you will, but given the Stenson treatment, and the group really takes off and drives intensely forward, with much more of feel of the blues, but nothing overt.
The title tune is by the fairly obscure composer/arranger Gordon Jenkins, which was used by Benny Goodman to close his shows, and comes as close to a standard ballad as anything else Stenson has recorded, while once again, the emotional and music kernel of the piece is exposed and brought to the surface. Stenson and Jormin demonstrate they know each other, and Motian slips effortlessly and forcefully into the roll that Christensen filled for so long. This is true trio music where the whole is definitely more than the sum of the parts, which nevertheless remain distinct.
Containing more than ninety minutes of music on two discs, Serenity is simply astounding. Stenson's trio has created a lake that is so deep and wide, yet crystal clear, it would take weeks to fully explore. The overall mood is quite subdued yet tension and intensity are always lurking beneath the surface, as with Jormin's "T" and immediately followed by four short, abstract, free "Prints," which start Disc 1.
Instead of choosing an Ornette Coleman tune, this time Stenson picks Wayne Shorter's "Swee Pea" (from Super Nova), which in its original form is an eerie wisp of a tune, but here is introduced by faint percussive effects by Christensen leading to Jormin's arco playing that almost voices harmonics on every note, echoing Shorter's mournful soprano. The bass vamp that is set up threatens to take off, but never does, and Stenson's playing just barely adds to the melody.
On Disc 2, Silvio Rodriguez is revisited by "El Mayor" (the first time was "Oleo de mujer con sombrero" from War Orphans). The core of the disc could arguable be said to be "Die Nachtigal" by Alban Berg, "Rimbaud Gedicht" by Hanns Eisler and the title tune, "Serenity" by Charles Ives. The Berg line is made to almost feel like a waltz as it drifts in and out of a subtle triple meter and becomes almost a song; one can almost see Berg smiling, saying, "Yes, that is how my music should be played."
Eisler, who is also represented on Disc 1, has his tune supported by an intense Christensen on snare and cymbals as Stenson and Jormin let it sing out. Ives is hardly the stuff of what is normally considered jazz material, but here is used as grist for the Stenson/Jormin/Christensen mill with each player contributing to an ethereal sound, each taking the lead at different times. Serenity is to be sipped slowly and thoughtfully.
The :rarum series enables an ECM artist himself to choose tracks from his whole career and present them as a sampler. If you have never heard Bobo Stenson on ECM, this is a very good way to hear his work over an almost thirty year period. Selections are from Serenity (3), Dansere (1), Dona Nostra (2), War Orphans (1), The Call [currently unavailable in the U.S.] (1), Leosia (1), Witchi-Tai-To (1), Reflections (1), Underwear [as of now, out of print] (1) and All My Relations (1). See the more detailed descriptions to get an idea of the music created by this remarkable artist.
Beginning with the beautiful Silvio Rodriguez tune "Oleo de mujer con sombrero," Stenson almost immediately hits an exposed altered note that dramatically bends the harmony. His trademark way of emphasizing certain notes by dynamics and by the "ghost" notes is on display for everyone to hear in the unaccompanied introduction.
Jormin's compositions are represented by "Natt," "Eleventh of January" and "Sediment," and his melodic bass playing style, huge sound and use of vamps and ostinati give structure to the slowly unwinding melodies. Stenson's predilection for the tunes of Ornette Coleman shows with "All My Life" and the title tune, which could be seen as a summary of everything Stenson. The quiet intensity, the sense of large space being created by implying rather than stating, Jormin's arco playing that almost voices harmonics around Stenson's line all add up to deep feelings being expressed.
Not a prolific composer, Stenson's "Bengali Blue" seems built out of nothing at first except Jormin's deep bass and Christensen's light yet driven drumming. War Orphans is music that is like pure dark chocolate which melts slowly in your mouth into a rich complexity of flavors.
The first record with the trio that will continue with War Orphans, Serenity and Goodbye, Reflections starts off with "The Enlightener" which sounds almost like a "standard" tune at first, but, with the extremely long section on a pedal point, goes off in an entirely unexpected direction.
George Gershwin's "My Man Is Gone Now" is taken apart and the very essence of the beautiful tune is laid bare, much in the manner of "Send in the Clowns" on Goodbye. There are three other tunes by Stenson including "12 Tones Old," which is either based on a 12-tone row or explicitly visits all twelve keys, while nevertheless feeling tonally centered and is, of course, musical and not an exercise. The core line is explicated more clearly in Plunge.
Jormin contributes the enigmatically entitled "Not" and "Q," where the gift of his huge sound, rhythmic clarity and melodic inventiveness is displayed. Also clearly shown here is the near ESP that is present between Stenson and Jormin. "Mindatyr," the longest track by far, starts with a vaguely South Asian feel as Jormin plays arco for the long introduction, until a bass pattern signals the tune proper as the band gradually heats up around a solid rhythm, only to eventually fall back and fade away.
While Anders Jormin is in this trio as he is in the later work, the music here, at least in the first half, feels entirely different than its closest relative Reflections, recorded seven years later. This is a more standard affair, with straightforward rhythms provided by Carlsson, and many times a walking bass line by Jormin. Even the "arrangements" of the tunes in the first half are standard: piano, bass, piano. The familiar Stenson style of the later years is, however, audible: the individual note dynamics, the spaces between phrases, the building of a solo.
The second half of the disc (especially from "Pavane" onward), however, sounds much more like what is commonplace later, including Stenson's predilection for the tunes of Ornette Coleman ("Ramblin'"). In his later work, the atmosphere becomes more diffuse, but perhaps gains in intensity, with the biggest difference being that between the drumming of Carlsson here and Christensen/Motian later.
As A Sideman
Stenson's sideman work can easily be grouped by leader: Garbarek (Sart, Dansere, Witchi-Tai-To), Stanko (Leosia, Litania, Matka Johanna), Lloyd (Canto, Notes From Big Sur, Fish Out Of Water, All My Relations), the smaller groups: Jormin (Eight Pieces, Nordic Light), Brostrom (Celestial Nights, Dark Light), Milder (Sister Majs Blouse, Epilogue), Danielsson (Poems, Live At Visiones), Vaering (When I Close My Eyes, In So Many Words) and then the others. As one becomes more familiar with the breadth of his work, Stenson's interlocking musical relationships become more apparent.
The group Plunge has a previous record of the same kind of material recorded without Stenson. In this second recording, it is clear that Stenson is not the leader, but a guest. The collaboration between Plunge and Bobo began in the fall of 2002 when they invited him to join them for a few concerts in Sweden. These were very successful and an ongoing relationship had begun. Stenson is still a guest with the trio, and Plunge is also active on it's own. Since that first tour as a quartet, they have done several tours of Sweden together and one of the concerts was also broadcasted by the Swedish Radio. Plunge and Stenson are planning a few concerts together in March 2006.
However, Stenson meshes so completely with their esthetic that he sounds like he has been playing and thinking with them for a long time. All the tracks except #5 ("12 Tones Old" by Stenson), #6 ("Three Characters" by Andersen/Stenson/Nilsson) #9 ("Castor" by Hjorth) and #14 ("Ethos Gives Posture" by Andersson) are marked as composed by all four players, which means they were improvised. The group can remind one of Lars Danielsson's quartet on Poems, especially when Andersson plays soprano and sounds a bit like Dave Liebman, and anyone familiar with the very fine Vertigo Quartet release this year will hear hints of them in "Lingua Franca".
This piece, which starts the record, has the strongest sense of pulse among the improvised pieces, and finds Stenson in his hot mode. The tracks composed by the band members sound decidedly different than the freer tracks. There is more structure, both melodically and harmonically, and thus they are easier to immediately grasp. The improvised pieces, however, all have a forward drive produced by the whole band that carries the day and entices the listener, creating marvelous music.
As the title states, this disc contains seven compositions by Lennart Aberg, performed by different size groups, ranging from what is essentially a big band ("Spiraltrappan," "4," "Skalovningar" and "Chris-Chros") to a sextet ("The Don" and "Ornette Or Not") to a quartet ("Lena's Tune"). Stenson appears on all tracks, as does Palle Danielsson (see Sister Majs Blouse, Epilogue, Litania Fish Out Of Water, Dansere and Witchi-Tai-To to note the long playing relationship with Stenson).
Aberg has an immediately recognizable style on his reeds, but he generally lays back here and lets his compositions peak. "SpiralTrappan," which starts the disc, features a very angular solo by Stenson, and one would never know there are rapidly changing meters. The fast, catchy opening section leads to a rubato section with just Aberg and Stenson, that sounds free but is not, and which leads back to a kind of a recap.
The stylistic change within a piece is echoed between pieces, and they vary quite a lot. "Lena's Tune," with just the quartet, could not be more different, yet it is also quite composed but sounds quite free. Lennart remarks about the complicated harmonies and unusual form, which everyone learned to navigate with just one rehearsal, and how the energy created by the quartet was as big in its own way as the big band. "Ornette Or Not" is an Ornette-esque romp for the sextet that is much fun to listen to with its controlled anarchy, while "4" for the big band is built on a circle of fifths from F7 to Ab7, and is not a blues, but just oozes that blues feeling.
In So Many Words
Vaering is a true poet/singer. Her words speak of her personal experiences, yet touch on universal truths and common feelings. While the poems are beautiful to read, her music truly enhances their effect. Most of the music is written by Vaering, and the tunes have complex structures, needing to follow the words, very much like the earlier When I Close My Eyes.
Her voice is crystal clear and she sings mostly without vibrato and Vaering pulls you in as she exposes herself through song. Stenson, once again, perfectly adapts himself to the music at hand, as he plays on all but two tunes. Standout tracks, for the efforts of both Vaering and Stenson include The Blues, a surprise My Favourite Things, Everywhere I Go (piano and strings) and the gorgeous torch song Detour Ahead. Vaering's two albums with Stenson highlight both her talent and the craft of tunesmanship. Enter Vaering's world of song and be rewarded with some terrific jazz as well.
This is the second installment of Joakim Milder's project to honor the music and memory of Borje Fredriksson, the first being Sister Majs Blouse. Fredriksson was considered one of the brightest and best performer/composers in the Scandinavian jazz scene, but he was easily hurt and committed suicide in 1968 at age 31.
In 1963, at age eighteen, Stenson started his career with Fredriksson. He considers him his mentor, receiving Fredriksson's sheet music after his death. Milder recounts that he was given Fredriksson's only album, "Intervall" when quite young and how it changed his musical outlook and life. Palle Danielsson and Fredrik Noren made up Fredriksson's last rhythm section, so these four men are all uniquely qualified to play this music. This disc includes many previously unrecorded works.
Stylistically wide-ranging, Epilogue includes tunes as different as the extended driving bop piece "Intervall" to the smokey ballad "Master" to the freely expressive "Amandas villa," with tunes like "Blues 55" and "Back Beat Blues" in between. The treat of the album is the three quite different versions of "Epilogue" which is a sketch.
"Epilogue I" opens with exposed, very open piano against deep bass and soft cymbals until Milder comes in with the haunting theme, and time stops. All is shimmering, diaphonous beauty. "Epilogue II" opens with solo bass using a mixture of regular notes and harmonics. The saxophone enters with the theme, sparsely accompanied by Stenson who gradually increases the density of notes as the lamenting tune unfolds in the horn. Milder and Stenson begin to play against each other with counterpoint from Danielsson as again time stops and deep emotions are exposed. The last version, "Epilogue III," which ends the disc, starts in a way similar to "Epilogue II," but Milder comes in quickly and the theme gets played in unison with the piano, which makes it even eerier. This extraordinary music could have been written at any time, not just in the sixties.
Carlsson sings, and very well at that, with a light voice that is under control. An album of romantic songs, the title comes from mixing Miles Davis' "Seven Steps To Heaven" and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," both of which are included. Stenson plays on the last three tracks, and his touch and harmonic sense are immediately noticeable. Carlsson notes paradoxically that while he knows Stenson well, he always surprises him with a new touch. As an aside, the lyrics to "Footprints" include a recited well-known story about the narrator and God walking on the beach.
Tomasz Stanko Septet
Litania - Music of Krzysztof Komeda
Quoting Stanko from the liner notes: "I play regularly with Bobo Stenson, and he and I both knew he'd play Komeda's tunes even better than he plays mine. I gave Bobo all the archive recordings but what he plays is all his. Often he doesn't even use Komeda's chords." (emphasis mine). The notes also give an idea of the long relationships that exists between the players. Bernt Rosengren was with Komeda before Stanko himself. Christensen goes back with Stenson to the 70s in Garbarek's groups, and Milder and Stenson both count Borje Fredriksson a major influence.
"Svantetic" clearly shows Komeda's compositional method of building from small cells of notes, and "Night-time, Daytime Requiem" (for John Coltrane) shows how Komeda can maintain listener interest within his larger (20 minute) forms. Komeda managed to mix the symphonic with jazz, being free and controlled simultaneously. Since Stanko and Rosengren were with Komeda, and since everyone else has a close relationship, these recordings give a good idea of what the originals sound like.
Leosia is one of the most overlty beautiful and haunting records in the ECM catalogue, and to many represent Tomasz Stanko's high point of creation thus far. Stenson is directly involved with the total sound of the album, and has a direct musical connection with the leader.
From the opening chords of "Morning Heavy Song" to the closing arpeggios of the title song, Stenson's subtle touch, chordal voicings and emotional intensity combine with Stanko's mournful trumpet to create music of loss and hope. He and Jormin, his long time playing partner seem to share the same mind and their slow burn complements Stanko and urges him on.
This album catches Stanko in between his earlier very free period where phrases seem to go everywhere and nowhere simultaneously and his current work which, while losing none of its intensity, has a much more easily grasped structure.
Stenson's relationship with Charles Lloyd at ECM lasted through five albums, of which Canto is the last. In terms of other musical relationships, Anders Jormin and Palle Danilesson on bass and Jon Christensen on drums are to be found during this period. One might think that someone like Stenson, with his Scandinavian background, might not mesh with Lloyd who has an extremely personal style and a California history. However, Lloyd's mystical side, and its expression through music binds the performers together.
"Tales of Rumi," which is sixteen plus minutes long and starts of the record, is introduced by Stenson plucking and tapping the piano strings, then intimating the melody as the tension and intensity increases over the static harmony until Lloyd enters. Always very inventive, Lloyd speaks with his saxophone, staying away from the pulse for long periods of time, only to drop right on it at a moment's notice. Stenson fits right in, taking a dramatic solo in the second half as the music peaks.
Lloyd also has some trademark things that he repeatedly does, such as playing repeated notes with different fingerings and reaching notes through a sliding cry that vocalizes every line he plays. Lloyd's compositions tend to spin out from a diffuse structure, so the listener must just let it wash over her as his music, which does have time, melody and harmony just refuses to settle down, and which can be quite rewarding and healing for those able to do so.
Live at Visiones
Ostensibly led by Lars Danielsson, this group feels more like a cooperative, although Liebman, playing soprano saxophone, sounds like the performance leader. With only five tracks taking up an hour, there is much time to stretch out, and the band plays very hot, especially "Little Peanut" where everyone, including Stenson really takes off. This is hot Stenson, and a live version a band represented by the studio recording of Poems.
The music itself is kind of post-Coltrane modal with a strong beat provided by a bass vamp from Danielsson or from Christensen's drumming. Liebman plays quite freely over the bubbling backdrop, and Stenson's comping shows he is always listening, many times echoing Liebman. A fine album that has that "I wish I had been there" feeling in capturing a wonderful set.
Trine-Lise Vaering has one of those effortless voices with little vibrato that just flows from her to the listener. The effect is the direct communication of her lyrics that carry deep emotion with profundity and sincerity. She projects vulnerability both through her voice and her words, and the total effect can be memsmerizing.
Vaering wrote the music to most her lyrics, but even that written by Fredrick Lundin, who plays saxophones and flutes on a number of tracks, ends up being of a piece because the strength of the lyric's structure. The most normally structured lyric is "Portraying a Heart," which only highlights the difference of the other tracks.
Stenson plays on all tracks except "We Shan't Be Told," and always adds to the performance. The music is not complex harmonically, just structurally, with many odd length phrases. "From the Book of Love" is a duet between Vaerig and Stenson that straddles art and jazz song. His poetic style, being exposed, is plain to hear. Instrumentally, the most exciting track is "Angels in the Crowd" which has but one verse sung in rubato rhythm as an introduction, after which the piano quartet eventually takes off.
Rolf Ericson/Lennart Aberg
Ellington and Strayhorn
Stenson plays the blues, and for the most part avoids the more "pastel" kind of harmonies, although the Stensonian touch and line building are still there. As usual, what he does is totally appropriate to the music at hand, and his solos show a deep love of these wonderful composers. Quite different and refreshing, the tunes, both those that are well known and those lesser known, are given a deep swing that starts with Strayhorn's "The Intimacy of the Blues" and does not let up.
This is some of the most abstract music to come from Stanko. Each track is a musical "image" created from scenes of the movie Matka Johanna from the Angels by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, to whom the album is dedicated. The music ranges from mostly percussion sounds to reworkings of tunes like "Maldoror's War Song," first heard on Bosonossa, to "Tales for a Girl, 12," which finds Stanko playing a line that makes sense without ever repeating itself. Floating, ethereal and evocative, this music is full of beautiful trumpet lines echoed by the individual band members as well as solo passages by Stenson, Jormin and Oxley.
Many tracks have no beginning or end, no reference or obvious meaning. As such, Matka Johanna can be called music of free association, as well as if not free, then very loose jazz. Without the movie to hold things together, it is easy to get lost in the individual tracks, which is not unpleasant to be sure.
The title track, almost eleven minutes long, and in the center if the disc, starts with dark, brooding bass and piano until Stanko plays one of his lines that entwine and seduce the listener without a discernable structure, yet which, nevertheless, moves forward. Superb, if unsettling music.
Dedicated to the memory of Swami Ritajananda, All My Relations includes a very touching and funny mini-biography from Lloyd and he wants to sing to the memory of every musician who passed through his hometown, stayed in his house, taught him something, or just said the right thing at the right time to push him in the right direction. And sing he does, with seeming inexhaustible invention, constantly driven by Billy Hart who is much more forceful than on Canto.
Stenson and Jormin should not be forgotten, however, since as rhythm section they play as one. Stenson's solos on "Piercing the Veil" is full of energy and unpredictable, and one can hear someone vocalizing to the music. An eerie flute in its lowest register against a simple vamp starts "Little Piece," and anyone claiming to not like flute in jazz should listen to this very cool playing.
"Thelonious Theonlyus" is full smiles and Stenson outdoes himself with sly chromaticism and rhythm. The playing of the piano strings themselves is introduced in "Hymne to the Mother," and revisited in "Tales of Rumi" on Canto, and here Lloyd raises a prayer to all Mothers, both of the earth and the body.
Fully half of the album is taken up by "Cape to Cairo Suite," "Evanstide, Where Lotus Bloom" and "All My Relations." Each has much wonderful playing from everyone, including a fine solo by Stenson in "Evanstide," but they feel like they could have been tightened up (perhaps especially in "All My Relations," which has a very long solo introduction by Lloyd) and be just as effective.
Celestial Nights feels much more introverted than Dark Light. The mood here is more thoughtful for the most part. Even "Possibilities," the most driving tune has a much lighter feel, although Kjellberg is blistering with his cymbals. "Dance Of The Leaves" evokes images of a happy dance out in the warm sun. "Rememberance," the longest track by far, has a lightly hopping melody on which Stenson plays a wonderful solo, but with many more chordal sections than usual, perhaps to add more drive.
The title tune itself, which Brostrom states is a group improvisation, feels a bit unfocused and rudderless. Nevertheless, between this release and Dark Light one can get a good feel for this very inventive musician who communicates his feelings quite directly through his music.
Dona Nostra is Cherry's last recording; he died of liver cancer in 1995. The overall mood is introduced by Stenson in his chordal playing of the beautiful and simple theme of "In Memoriam," written by Lennart Aberg which sounds a bit like "Celina" from Matka Johanna. Stenson expands on Aberg with his flowing, twisting lines and trademark wide dynamic range. In the last third of the track Stenson plays around, over and under Aberg's mournful lines, and Cherry does not appear.
"Fort Cherry," "Arrows," "Vienna" and "Ahayu-Da" are group improvisations that succeed to various degrees, with the first and the last the most engaging. "M'Bizo" has a haunting theme initially played by Cherry and Aberg in unison. Stenson seems to choose the perfect notes throughout and gives the track its shape. The driving rhythm and dancing vamp "Race Face" by Ornette Coleman is picked up again by Stenson on Goodbye. Aberg takes off and is answered in every way by Stenson. Cherry is again mostly absent, but he does play, supported by percussion and bass throughout the mysterious "Prayer". Another tune by Ornette Coleman, "What Reason Could I Give," is the shortest track, played as a duet by Cherry and Stenson and brings tears. Wonderful music, but surprisingly not much Don Cherry.
Sister Majs Blouse is the first of two releases by this quartet of players deeply affected by Frediksson. Go to Epilogue for their intertwined histories. The title tune refers to a nurse who was very important to Frediksson during his last days, and is a mournful blues on which Stenson plays a few choruses after Milder plays some of the saddest jazz blues you ever heard. Together, the tunes span a range of styles that show Freriksson's broad music taste.
From "Mahatma" that evokes "Night in Tunisia" until it veers away to the absolutely gorgeous "Ballad for Laila," and on to the folk music influenced "Brollopsvals," Fredriksson's music is timeless and can easily fit into today's esthetic. One of the most highly regarded young musicians of his time, he has influenced many, including this quartet, down to the present day.
Lloyd has a slightly softer tone than elsewhere on "Requiem" and Stenson answers his opening plaintive solo his own very solidly built solo that takes the middle third of the eight-minute track. Lloyd's usual techniques are on display, and his way of sounding as if he is wandering while negotiating the harmony is immediately noticeable. "Sister" has a similar mood and structure, but the track is lifted by Stenson who is showing how well he adapts himself to the needs of the music at hand.
The two part "Pilgrimage to the Mountain" (part 1 is "Persevere" and part 2 is "Surrender") is split between track three and track eight. Jormin introduces the tune with one of his trademark harmonic solos, and when Lloyd comes in the sky opens up and we see the mountain in the distance. The music has extreme spiritual overtones, linking the earth with the sky, and Stenson immeasurably helps create the mood. "Surrender" starts with the same eerie playing of Jormin who continues under Lloyd's entrance while Stenson helps create the sense of floating in the open air.
In between these two tone poems are the lighter "Sam Song," a haunting "Takur" in which Jormin again does his beautiful harmonics. "Monk in Paris" on which Lloyd again uses a softer, more playful tone even when he is running fast arpeggios, finds Stenson playing another perfect solo andd finally "When Miss Jessye Sings" which has an opening motive that very strongly resembles Coltrane, but which quickly moves beyond it, with more concentrated Stenson.
Notes From Big Sur is a very introspective album, even by Lloyd's standards, but contains some of Stenson's finest playing with Lloyd.
This is the studio version of the band in Live at Visiones and which contains three of the five tracks on that record. The emphasis in the playing is, of course, different between live where total spontaneity and surprise is optimal, and studio, where the same thing is desired, but more controlled with an eye towards the recording.
Liebman is quite wonderful, displaying a freedom with a structure that is enthralling. He almost splits the composing duties with Danielsson, and the two men create music for the band rather than individual compositions played by the band. The quartet really has four soloists, with Liebman being the only, one, naturally, dropping out when not playing. The remaining trio blends their individuality to become a unit, with each arising to the surface. Stenson is a supremely confident accompanist, either when comping or playing filling phrases. In, "Suite" he gets the most time to solo, and makes the most of it, playing with drive and fire.
Hakan Brostrom plays soprano and tenor saxophone (alto and tenor on Celestial Nights) and is quite lithe on them all, but especially the higher two. He writes well-crafted melodies that provide able ground for not only his always inventive solos, but for the imagination of his band. While remaining solidly mainstream, the angular melodies that take surprising turns and which are supported by different and unpredictable harmony provide a deep listening experience.
Stenson again shows his adaptability by playing within the vibe set up by Brostrom and, while adding his own musical thoughts to the mix, does not go farther than asked while pushing the music forward. Kjellberg (who also plays on Dona Nostra) and Spering provide a supple and bubbling underpinning, seeming to keep the group floating in air. Schultz seems to make his first appearance (on acoustic guitar) in the longest track, "Who's Coming" (written while Brostrom and his wife were expecting their first child), but later adds some burning electric, distorted guitar sounds in "On The Edge." A delightful record all around.
Fish Out Of Water is the first of the Lloyd/Stenson collaborations and the first ECM recording. Lloyd had retired from playing and it was Michel Petrucciani who persuaded him to return to jazz in the early 1980s. The mood is introspective and mysterious and the connection between Lloyd and Coltrane can be very clear at times. Most of the time, however, Lloyd is quite melodic and plaintive with the uncanny ability to spin out a line that seems disconnected from both the harmony and the rhythm, yet which is very logical.
His playing can be entrancing as one follows the line that can stay within a narrow range yet never be boring. Lloyd has quite a few mannerisms that make him recognizable, the primary one being an arpeggio with the middle note fingered two different ways. What has been called the "ECM rhythm section" is quite sympathetic to Lloyd's music and gets very inside his thinking. Stenson's solos invariably maintain the intensity set by Lloyd, yet he remains himself. This record might not be the first one of Lloyd's to listen to, but is a very interesting link when compared to the others.
Eight Pieces is a "festival suite" (as described by Jormin) originally written for the Gothenberg Jazz Festival in 1987. This octet produces an amazing sound as it realizes the compositions and arrangements of Jormin. "Em Snabba" ("Five Fast"), the opening tune, simply burns as Kleive (drums), Klinghageb (guitar) and Jormin himself set up an unrelenting rhythmic drive over which Wilczewski wails on soprano saxophone. Stenson answers with a typical tight, pithy, twisting and turning solo backed by softer, but still driving drums and bass.
At the other end of the spectrum, "30," a ballad written for Jormin's wife's birthday, uses Eric Satie for inspiration, and features a floating melody played by guitar surrounded by the filligrees of Stenson. In between we find "Em," which Jormin describes as a mood piece, and which features a saxophone solo with almost no notes but rather sounds and almost speech, backed by arpeggiated piano chords and waves of synthesizer.
"N.S." says Jormin, is "a song to which I also wrote lyrics - which Thomas Gustafson sings through his horn." The suite ranges over many other styles as well and proves Jormin to be an eclectic and omnivorous musician at home anywhere in the wide world of jazz.
Nordic Light is an extremely interesting record for anyone with a predilection for Scandinavian jazz. Even if one does not know any of the melodies from the better-known composers (Edvard Grieg, Carl Nielsen) or, for that matter from the unknowns (August Ekstrom, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, Carl Sjoberg), the arrangements by Jormin and the playing, particular by the passionate Gustafson, make for extremely enjoyable jazz from the north lands.
The melodies, which clearly were not written with jazz improvisation in mind, have a slightly more composed feel about them which can be heard during their declamation. During the improvisatory sections, however, the musicians really let go. Stenson plays an extraordinary solo in "Solverigs vuggesang" (from Peer Gynt), perhaps because this music is in his blood.
Gustafson plays a emotive soprano saxophone on "Tonerna," the one work of Sjoberg that has been immortalized, but which has never been given quite the treatment it is given here. All of the tracks bring out heartfelt playing from the whole group, and, as such, provide a window into the Nordic soul.
The first differences one might notice between Dansere and Witchi-Tai-To are that the former is altogether softer while Stenson is much more forceful, with Garbarek still employing that very tight, driving sound. The title tune is fifteen minutes long and has more of a haunting quality than anything on the previous album. Stenson plays marvelously, having seemed to have found his feet in this kind of music. The rest of the tunes that make up the forty minute disc share both a sense of grand space and Garbarek's insistent sound, usually much louder than the rest of the instruments. "Lokk" is the only tune not composed by Garbarek, but it sums up the feel of the record. Empty space, dark blue endless sky, loneliness, a call out to the wilderness, at first unaccompanied, then with sparse murmerings from the band. Stenson plays a rubato solo that could tear your heart apart. Either this clicks with you or not, but, of course, that can be said of all jazz.
The stylistic shift from Afric Pepperbird, to Sart, on to Triptykon through Witchi-Tai-To and ending with Dansere (which is Stenson's last album with Garbarek) is from relatively free playing that evokes many visual images and emotions to the sound that is most associated with Garbarek and dubbed the "ECM Sound" which, however has never been really defined. Witchi-Tai-To can be thought of as a hinge album between the two sides of Garbarek. The tunes, except for "Kukka," by Palle Danielsson, are composed by others including Carla Bley, Jim Pepper and Don Cherry. What sets it most apart from its earlier cousins is the appearance of very regular rhythmic patterns and a clear, but many times static, harmony along with tunes of more regular structure. Whatever else can be said about the music, it definitely moves from being on the heady, abstract side over to that which is more overtly and directly emotional.
Specifically, Garbarek plays the enticing melody to "A.I.R" by Carla Bley on soprano sax with his characteristic sound which has a slight burr being forcefully pushed out. The harmony is a simple pair of alternating chords, so Danielsson and Stenson are left trying to find as many ways as possible to vary the accompaniment, and Stenson's solo feels like a meander. The title tune by Jim Pepper starts with a slightly bluesy intro by Stenson and has a very open, almost "big sky" feel, having a harmonic structure which is a circular series of chords that is repeated. Garbarek blows his heart out on the very pretty melody.
Nearly half of the album is taken up by Don Cherry's "Desireless". After an ethereal piano intro with percussion and chimes, Garbarek lays out the melody with his tenor sax that has the same timbre as the earlier soprano. The group is clearly taking its time and each member of the band expands over a static bass vamp.
Rypdal is not merely a guitarist but more of a sound painter who happens to use electric guitar and effects as his tools. The music is built mostly on vamps and is quite static. Stenson is not really audible as a soloist and is in fact replaced in "Electric Fantasy," the fifteen minute and longest track, by Tom Halverson. Clearly music of its time, Terje Rypdal owes much of its vibe to releases like Miles Davis' In A Silent Way. Stenson did not work with Rypdal again, so perhaps this music was not a good fit for him.
Sart is Grabarek's second album, and Stenson is essentially an addition to the previous quartet. This early Garbarek is quite different from the more well-known sound of Witchi-Tai-To and Dansere three or fours years hence.
The music is quite abstract in that it aims to evoke emotions through sound shaping rather than tune, and Stenson adds filligrees, arpeggios and dense chords towards that end. In the title tune, Garbarek erupts with one of the most terrifying saxophone howls on record, while Rypdal lets loose with one of his guitar effects solos in "Song of Space". "Lontano," by Rypdal, with its extreme effects shows up again in Rypdal's own Terje Rypdal of the same year.
Stenson plays the most on "Irr" which slowly takes shape after a bass-only intro, then drums are added until Grabarek plays a typically abstract solo on which Stenson picks up the last two notes to start his solo about halfway through the track. Relentlessly pushing forward in front of a fiery Christensen and pulsing Andersen, Stenson makes his statement count.
This work was commissioned by the Norwegian Cultural Fund for the 1971 Kongsberg Jazz Festival, specifically for the performance in the Kongsberg Church in Kongsberg, Norway, and has been recorded live at the premier on June 26, 1971.
Three choral groups and jazz band perform the four "Events" with some singing and much spoken text, featuring anti-war articles from Newsweek, and some philosophical musings that feel Buddhist, even when talking about Christianity. The band only gets to play at the end of Event III and the first half of Event IV. Stenson is on electric piano and does not solo. An interesting composition that has all of the problems of choral enunciation and audience uderstandability in a big space.
Lars Farnlof (1942-1994) suffered from polio contracted in childhood, but nevertheless was a very highly regarded player and composer with tunes recorded by Stan Getz and Bill Evans. His musical education in Los Angeles led him to want to write for larger musical forces but also to find a balance between the composed and the improvised. After a seven year gestation he produced Heureka, a three part symphonic suite for jazz quartet and symphony orchestra, which premiered in Vasteras in 1969.
The twenty-three minute piece has a ten minute symphonic section, after which the quartet makes its entrance, and from then on the two groups interact. The purely orchestral music can be quite beautiful, sounding vaguely of Sibelius, but definitely Nordic. The jazz improvisations are solid and Farnlof gets a gorgeous flugelhorn sound. This is very early Stenson, but the basics of his style are audible.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Send In The Clowns; Rowan; Alfonsina; There Comes A Time; Song About Earth; Seli; Goodbye; Music For A While; Allegretto Rubato; Jack Of Clubs; Sudan; Queer Street; Triple Play; Race Face.
Personnel: Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Paul Motian: drums.
Tracks: CD1: T.; West Print; North Print; East Print; South Print; Polska Of Despair (II); Golden Rain; Swee Pea; Simple & Sweet; Der Pflaumenbaum; CD2: El Mayor; Fader V (Father World); Extra Low; Die Nachtigall; Rimbaud Gedicht; Polska of Despair (I); Tonus.
Personnel: Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double bass; Jon Christensen: drums.
Tracks: East Print; Svevende; What Reason Could I Give?; Oleo de mujer con sombrero; Father V; Song; Morning Heavy Song; Golden Rain; Witchi-Tai-To; Reflection in D; Untitled; Little Peace; Ahayu-Da.
Personnel: Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Jon Christensen: drums; Jan Garbarek; tenor and soprano saxophone; Palle Danielsson double-bass; Don Cherry: trumpet; Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone; Billy Hart: drums; Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Tony Oxley: drums; Arild Andersen: double-bass; Anders Kjellberg: drums; Okay Temiz: percussion.
Tracks: Oleo de mujer con sombrero; Natt; All My Life; Eleventh Of January; War Orphans; Sediment; Bengali Blues; Melancholia.
Personnel: Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Jon Christensen: drums.
Tracks: The Enlightener; My Man's Gone Now; NOT; Dorrmattan; Q; Reflections in D; 12 Tones Old; Mindiatyr.
Personnel: Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Jon Christensen: drums.
Tracks: Moon And Sand; Some Other Spring; Very Early; Autumn In New York; Coming On The Bike; Pavane; Satellite; Sorg; Ramblin'.
Personnel: Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: bass; Rune Carlsson: drums.
Tracks: Lingua Franca; Wrestler; Back and Forth; Prolog; 12 Tones Old; Three Characters; Humble Rumble; Levitation; Castor; Gears; A Moment of Clarity; Dense Image; Visit by Onkel Time; Ethos Gives Posture.
Personnel: Andreas Andersson: saxophones; Bobo Stenson: piano; Matthias Hjorth: bass; Peter Nilsson: drums.
Tracks: Spiraltrappan; The Don; 4; Lena's Tune; Skalovningar; Ornette Or Not; Chris-Chros.
Personnel: Lennart Aberg: soprano, tenor saxophone, flute; Bobo Stenson: piano; Palle Danielsson: double-bass; Peter Erskine: drums (except 2,6); Fredrik Noren: trumpet (1,3,5,7); Peter Asplund: trumpet (1,2,3,5,6,7); Magnus Broo: trumpet (1,3,5,7); Bosse Broberg: trumpet (3,7); Bertil Strandberg: trombone (1,3,5,7); Mattis Cederberg: bass trombone (1,3,5,7); Magnus Peterson: french horn (1,3,5); Hakan Brostrom: alto, soprano saxophones, flute (1,3,5,7); David Wilczewski: tenor, soprano saxophones, flute (1,3,5,7); Erik Nilsson: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, flute (1,3,5,7); Mattias Stahl: marimba, vibraphone (1,2,3,5,6,7); Daniel Karlsson: synthesizer (1,3,5,7); Johan Lofcranz: drums (2,6).
Tracks: The Picture; Where the Roof Meets the Sky; The Blues; My Favourite Things; Everywhere I Go; The Come On; When the Rain Falls; Detour Ahead; The Games We Play; The Shifting of the Winds.
Personnel: Trine-Lise Vaering: voice; Bobo Stenson: piano; Mads Vinding: bass; Alex Riel: drums.
Tracks: Intervall; Epilogue I; Hovmastar Rock (Head-waiter rock); Tio sma sota (Ten little sweet darlings); Blues 55; Epilogue II; En berattelse (A story); Back Beat Blues; Amandas villa (Amandas house); Master; Epilogue III.
Personnel: Joakim Milder: tenor saxophone; Bobo Stenson: piano; Palle Danielsson: double-bass; Fredrik Noren: drums.
Tracks: They Say It Is Wonderful; Seven Steps To Heaven; Footprints; Little Girl In Blue; I Got The Blues In Santa Cruz; The Ballad Of The Sad Young Men; For My Lady; Gratitude; Black Magic; My Foolish Heart; Pannonica; To Welcome The Day.
Personnel: Rune Carlsson: vocal (1-12), drums (3,5); Bernt Rosengren: tenor saxophone; Ulf Andersson: alto saxophone; Goran Strandberg: piano (1-9); Hans Backenroth: bass (1-9); Bengt Stark: drums (1-9); Bobo Stenson: piano (10,11,12).
Tracks: Svantetic; Sleep Safe And Warm; Night-time; Daytime Requiem; Ballada; Litania; Sleep Safe And Warm; Repetition; Ballad For Bernt; The Witch; Sleep Safe And Warm.
Personnel: Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Bernt Rosengren: tenor saxophone; Joachim Milder: tenor and soprano saxophone; Bobo Stenson: piano; Palle Danielsson: double-bass; Jon Christensen: drums; Terje Rypdal: guitar.
Tracks: Morning Heavy Song; Die Weisheit von Le comte Lautreamont; A Farewell To Maria; Brace; Trinity; Forlorn Walk; Hungry Howl; No Bass Trio; Euforila; Leosia.
Personnel: Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Tony Oxley: drums.
Tracks: Tales of Rumi; How Can I Tell You; Desolation Sound; Canto; Nachiketa's Lament; M; Durga Durga.
Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone, Tibetan oboe; Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Billy Hart: drums.
Tracks: New Hands; Dressed Up; Jung; Little Peanut; Folk Song.
Personnel: Lars Danielsson: bass; David Liebman: soprano saxophone; Jon Christensen: drums; Bobo Stenson: piano.
Tracks: The Indispensable; The Sacred And The Forlorn; The Sixth Sense; To The End; From The Book Of Love; Portraying A Heart; Angels In The Crowd; We Shan't Be Told; What If; Blame It On My Youth.
Personnel: Trine-Lise Vaering: voice; Bobo Stenson: piano; Mads Vinding: bass; Alex Rial: drums; with Maria Bisgaard: cello; Brigitte Oland: cello; Fredrik Lundin: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute, bass flute; Kurt Larsen: accordian; Jesper Lundgaard: bass.
Tracks: The Intimacy Of The Blues; Sentimental Lady; Prelude To A Kiss; Paris Blues; The Starcrossed Lovers; Serenade To Sweden; Just Squeeze Me; Chelsea Bridge; Portrait Of A Silk-Thread; Daydream; Fleurette Africaine (Little African Flower); Lotus Blossom.
Personnel: Rolf Ericson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Lennart Aberg: tenor and soprano saxophone, flute; Bobo Stenson: piano; Dan Berglund: bass Egil Johansen: drums; Rose-Marie Aberg: vocal; Goran Klingenhagen: electric guitar; Max Schultz: acoustic guitar.
Tracks: Monastery In The Dark; Green Sky; Maldoror's War Song; Tales For A Girl, 12; Matka Johanna From The Angels; Cain's Brand; Nun's Mood; Celina; Two Preludes For Tales; Klostergeist.
Personnel: Tomasz Stanko: trumpet; Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Tony Oxley: drums.
Tracks: Piercing The Veil; Little Peace; Thelonious Theonlyus; Cape To Cairo Suite (Hommage to Mandela); Evanstide, Where Lotus Bloom; All My Relations; Hymne To The Mother; Milarepa.
Personnel: Charles Lloyd: saxophone, flute, chinese oboe; Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Billy Hart: drums.
Tracks: Spring; The Wagtail I; Celestial Nights; Possibilities; Pueritia; Dance Of The Leaves; The Wagtail II; Remembrance.
Personnel: Hakan Brostrom: alto and soprano saxophone; Bobo Stenson: piano; Christian Spering: bass; Anders Kjellberg: drums.
Tracks: In Memoriam; Fort Cherry; Arrows; M'bizo; Race Face; Prayer; What Reason Could I Give; Vienna; Ahayu-Da.
Personnel: Don Cherry: trumpet; Lennart Aberg: saxophones, flute; Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Anders Kjellberg: drums; Okay Temiz: percussion.
Tracks: Sister Majs Blouse; Mahatma; Vasaloparna (Oriental folksong); Stockholm 12; Min heliga (My Holy); Special; Fragment; Brollopsvals (Wedding Waltz); Triangel; Adagio con Espressione; Ballad for Laila.
Personnel: Joakim Milder: tenor saxophone; Bobo Stenson: piano; Palle Danielsson: bass; Fredrik Noren: drums.
Tracks: Requiem; Sister; Pilgrimage To The Mountain - Part 1: Persevere; Sam Song; Takur; Monk In Paris; When Miss Jessye Sings; Pilgrimage To The Mountain - Part 2: Surrender.
Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone; Bobo Stenson: piano; Anders Jormin: double-bass; Ralph Peterson: drums; Okay Temiz: percussion.
Tracks: Crystalline; Little Peanut; Suite; Dressed Up; Psalmen; Vana; Negative Space; Folk Song (To All Children).
Personnel: Lars Danielsson: bass; Bobo Stenson: piano; David Liebman: soprano saxophone; Jon Christensen: drums; Okay Temiz: percussion.
Tracks: Dark Light; Friendship; Till Cornelius; Rain Ballad; Who's Coming; In And Out; On The Edge; Magic Hands; Love Call.
Personnel: Hakan Brostrom: soprano and tenor saxophone; Bobo Stenson: piano; Max Schultz: guitar; Christian Spering: bass; Anders Kjellberg: drums.
Tracks: Fish Out Of Water; Hagia Sophia; The Dirge; Bharati; Eyes Of Love; Mirror; Tellaro.
Personnel: Charles Lloyd: tenor saxophone; Bobo Stenson: piano; Palle Danielsson: double-bass; Jon Christensen: drums.
Tracks: Fem Snabba; Ostia Antiqua; Em; Till Ro; N. S.; Alla Gator Leder Bort; Burkina; 8. 30.
Personnel: Anders Jormin: bass; Staffan Svensson: trumpet; Thomas Jaderlund: alto and bamboo saxophones; Dave Wilczewski: tenor and soprano saxophones; Thomas Gustafson: tenor and soprano saxophones; Bobo Stenson: piano; Harald Svensson: keyboards; Goran Klinghagen: guitar; Audun Kleive: drums.
Tracks: Jesus for varlden givit sitt liv (single version); Hyllningsmarsch (single version); Solveigs vuggesang; Junfrun under lind; Tonera; Hyllningsmarsch; Opus 41; Jesus for varlden givit sitt liv.
Personnel: Anders Jormin: bass; Bobo Stenson: piano; Thomas Gustafson: soprano and tenor saxophones; Christian Jormin: drums, percussion.
Tracks: Dansere; Svevende; Bris; Skrik & Hyl; Lokk; Til Venne.
Personnel: Jan Garbarek: saxophones; Bobo Stenson: piano; Palle Daniellson: bass; Jon Christensen: drums
Tracks: A. I. R.; Kukka; Hasta Siempre; Witchi-Tai-To; Desireless.
Personnel: Jan Garbarek: saxophones; Bobo Stenson: piano; Palle Daniellson: bass; Jon Christensen: drums.
Tracks: Keep It Like That - Tight; Rainbow; Electric Fantasy; Lontano II; Tough Enough.
Personnel: Terje Rypdal: guitar, flute; Inge Lise Rypdal: voice; Eckehard Fintal: oboe, English horn; Jan Garbarek: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet; Bobo Stenson: electric piano; Tom Halversen: electric piano; Arild Andersen: electric bass, double bass; Bjonar Andresen: electric bass; Jon Christensen: percussion.
Tracks: Sart; Fountain Of Tears - Part I and II; Song Of Space; Close Enough For Jazz; Irr; Lontano.
Personnel: Jan Garbarek: tenor saxophone, bass saxophone, flute; Bobo Stenson: piano, e-piano; Terje Rypdal: guitar; Arild Andersen: bass; Jon Christensen: percussion.
Tracks: Event I; Event II; Event III; Event IV.
Personnel: Bjornar Andresen: Fender bass; Arild Andersen: acoustic bass; Terje Rypdal: electric guitar; Webster Lewis: organ; Bobo Stenson: electric piano; Stanton Davis: trumpet; Jan Garbarek: tenor saxophone; Jon Christensen; percussion; George Russell: timpani; Voices" Sue Auclair: soprano; Gailanne Cummings: soprano; Joyce Gippo: alto; Kay Dunlap: alto; David Dusing: tenor; Ray Hardin: tenor; Don Kendrick: bass; Don Hovey: bass; Dan Windham: bass.
Tracks: Heureka; Svit Cachasa: Morket ler; La Bergerie I; La Bergerie II; Cachasa; Delta Queen.
Personnel: Lars Farnlof: flugelhorn; Bobo Stenson: piano (1); Red Mitchell: double bass; Rune Carlsson: drums (1); The Swedish Radio Symphone Orchestra, Leif Segerstam, conductor; The Staffan Abeleen Quintet: Lars Farnlof: cornet, flugelhorn; Bjorn Netz: tenor saxophone; Staffan Abeleen: piano; Fredrik Noren: drums; Red Mitchell: double bass; The Swedish Radio Jazz Group: Bosse Broberg: trumpet; Bertil Lovgren: trumpet; Jan Allen: trumpet; Hakan Nyquist: french horn; Lars Olofsson: trombone; Sven Larsson: bass trombone, tuba; Bertil Farnlof: oboe, cor anglais; Arne Domnerus: alto saxophone; Claes Rosendahl: tenor saxophone, flute; Erik Nilsson: baritone saxophone; Bengt Hallberg: piano; Rune Gustafsson: guitar; Stefan Brolund: electric bass; Egil Johansen: drums; Jan Bandel: congas.
Related links at AAJ
Bobo Stenson interview
Robert Lewis, courtesy of ECM Records