Jonas Knutsson/Mats Oberg: Live (2009)
An alluring aspect of this record, even before the first notes are heard is that it is simply titled Live. Expectation is enormous. It is a "live" record. What will happen? The elasticity of the jazz idiom fills the musical prospect with great expectation. Finally, performing on this record are the magnificent Swedish saxophonist, Jonas Knutsson and pianist, Mats Oberg an artist of prodigious talent, who played on Zappa's Universe (Verve, 1991), conducted by Joel Thome and scores of sadly unsung, but extraordinarily beautiful records.
This record launched to much heraldry in Europe, but not in the US. The concert was produced at Kammaren, Stockholm by Bengt Berger, an old cohort of Don Cherry. Here is a truly outstanding example of why live music is not to be missed: the mystery and magic of the moment. An uncannily telepathetic relationship, which this double-helix duo exemplifies, is carried to such a degree that they appear to be contrapuntal personalities of an endlessly innovative mind. The setting is also perfectproduction values are superb thanks to miking that accentuates the lifelike tonal values of the saxophones and to a piano that is to die for.
Knutsson has clearly listened to musicians from Johnny Hodges, but he has also listened to Pharoah Sanders and Jan Garbarek. His intonation is bright, song-like, and round, and his fingering is spry, even puckish at times. Oberg is a perfect foil. Here is a pianist with marvellous technique who recalls the voices of Walter Norris, Bud Powell, and Claude Debussy. However, he is also a pianist of singular adventure. His touch is light and even. He channels considerable technique, with arpeggios that coil and dart with intensity. His long, single note phrases dally and breathe with clarity. His dazzling runs also reveal startling inside-out phrases and remarkably complex harmony. He also plays harmonica brilliantly and can vocalize with melodic surprise.
The program is truly memorable. It is as if the heart of Sweden opened up and revealed a wellspring of gammaldans, polskas, and fast hambos folk music and dances in a molten mix of improvisation and a deep sensitivity to jazz, both ancient and modern. The set is intense, but every so often, the saxophonist and pianist take a wild stab at vaudevillian humor and pull it off with aplomb. Knuttson's compositions are labrynthine"Fluortanten" (Flowing Lady) is a dancing polska and "Milos Vaggsang," a deeply sensative sketch is vastly challenging. On both tracks, his saxophone undulates with lonesome intensity in bluesy minor modes.
Oberg's medley, "Halmaren/Hjorton Fran Mars/Higgan" and "Jagad I Hissen" (Chased in the Elevator) are full of dynamic twists and turns and vocal bombshells. "Vaggvisa for Bim..." a soaring lullaby, features Knutsson on baritone."Salg Funk" (Sales Funk) is delightfully whimsical. "Tokpolskan," another jumping polska is sad and brilliant. Zawinul's classic "In a Silent Way" is hauntingly beautiful.
Judging by the recorded evidence this live experience must surely have been "once-in-a-lifetime."
Track Listing: Fluortanten; Vaggvisa for Bim, Cornelis Och Alla Andra Manniskor Pa Jorden; Salg Funk!; Hjalmaren/Hjorton Fran Mars/Biggan; Milos Vaggsang; Jaggad I Hissen; Tokpolskan; In a Silent Way.
Personnel: Jonas Knutsson: soprano, alto and baritone saxophones; Jonas Oberg: voice, harmonica, piano.