Bobo Stenson: A Discography
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.