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Bobo Stenson: A Discography

By Published: March 9, 2006

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.

Terje Rypdal
Terje Rypdal

ECM 1016
1971 (1971)


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.

Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson/Terje Rypdal/Arild Andersen/Jon Christensen

ECM 1015
1971 (1971)


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.

George Russell
Listen To The Silence
Soul Note 121024
1983 (1971)


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
Phono Suecia 117
2001 (1970-73)


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.

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