New Scandinavian/Israeli Roots: Ira Mogilevsky's Gusphanka and Nybakat!
Mogilevsky was born in Russia and raised on Russian and Israeli culture, in particular on classical music. Only later did she embrace Scandinavian culture, which here acts to anchor both bands in contemporary Scandinavian jazz and folk traditions, enhancing the boundaries of the musical expression.
Mogilevsky began to play with Finnish drummer Tuomas Ojala in 2002, and three years later Swedish saxophonist Jonas Knutsson and bassist Clas Lassbo joined them. The quartet's name means "imprint" in Hebrew.
The first track, "A Way To Begin", may sound at first like an attempt to update the sensibility of the famous Scandinavian quartet lead by pianist Keith Jarrett, with its lyrical song-based melodies, expressive saxophone with shiny-folky overtones of Jan Garbarek, and a nuanced rhythm section that intensifies the colors and shades of melody. At other times, the music echoes the way Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson hybridizes assorted folk traditions, classical compositions and jazz standards into his own singular voice.
But from the second track on it's clear that while this quartet may reference others it has found its own original voice. Knutsson, the most experienced player among the quartet members, has an assured and aggresive tone on the soprano saxophone but he can also sound soft and contemplative. Mogilevsky moves freely between phrases that resonate with be-bop to more abstract and conceptual passages that relate to modern composition.
Ojala is a fast thinking drummer who likes to play around with the rhythms, while Lassbo supplies steady time keeping, and the album features the quartet in flowing, developing modes. The music moves between the rhythmic explosion of "Algo-Rhythm," through the caressing "South Of The North" and on to the almost Latin-tinged "Counter Reset," back to the cerebral and chamber-like austerity of "Prelude V" and on again to the sweetly emotional "Fantaskig,"
"Unsaid And Passed By" is the most challenging composition here. It begins with a dramatic introduction by Mogilevsky and Knutsson, augmented by the drone sounds of Nedelin's melodica, and progresses like a well-structured suite. It's impressive evidence of the talents of this quartet and its composer. Melodic, but also complex and open-minded.
The title of this quartet means "just-baked" in Swedish and this ensemble's recipe is well-cooked, but generously spiced. There are arrangements of eight traditional Scandinavian folk songs plus two originals. Joining Mogilevsky are saxophonist Bjorn Dahlberg, who has experience in playing Scandinavian, Bulgarian and African music; drummer Vlad Nedelin, who like Mogilvesky absorbed Russian and Israeli culture before he relocated to Sweden; the excellent bassist Markus Hongsel; and jazz singer and violin player Sara Niklasson.
The influence of Garbarek, whose distinctive style also borrows from Scandinivian folk traditions, shadows Dahlberg's sound and articulation, but the rest of the quartet play in an altogether less familiar manner.
For some reason, this format encourages Mogilevsky to play more freely than she does with Gushpanka. Maybe it has to do with her playful arrangements of these beautiful, time-tested melodies and their immediate emotional impact. Or perhaps it's the playful, almost childlike nature of her experiments with meters and rhythms. She transforms J.S. Bach's "Nu Gronskar Det" into a light, breezy Caribbean song, gives a quasi-cinematic arrangement to "Vorvindar Friska," and a Latinesque arrangement to "I Himmelen, I Himmelen."
Hongsel, who also plays in punk-jazz and hip-hop bands, is the most impressive player here. Like those other great Scandinavian bass players Palle Danielsson and Arild Andersen, he is gifted with an arresting presence and a warm, round tone, and can express a melody with great subtlety. He often leads these songs, and is always flowing with fresh and original ideas. The addition of vocalist Sara Niklasson, with her suggestive folky phrasing, brings a solid folky sensibility, especially to Dahlberg's arrangement of "Limu Limu Lima". This is an enjoyable gem, and hopefully more will follow.
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Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: A Way To Begin; Algo-Rhythm; South Of The North; Counter Reset; Prelude V; Salt & Sugar; Fantaskig; F; Unsaid And Passed by; No Hope.
Personnel: Ira Mogilevsky: piano; Jonas Knutsson: saxophones; Clas Lassbo: bass; Tuomas Ojala: drums, percussion; Vlad Nedelin: melodica (9).
Tracks:Fjrlin Vingad Syns Po Haga; Kristallen Den fina; Midsommer I Lingbo; Horlig Or Jorden; Det Or En Ros utsprungen; Nu Gronskar Det; Limu Limu Lima; Siselspett; Vorvindar Friska; I Himmelen, I Himmelen.
Personnel: Ira Mogilevsky: piano, melodica; Bjorn Dahlberg: saxophones; Markus Hongsel: bass; Vlad Nedelin: drums; Sara Niklasson: vocals (4,7), violin (3,9).