Bobo Stenson: A Discography
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.