Lars Jansson Trio with Ensemble MidtVest: Worship Of Self (2012)
Pianist Lars Jansson's music is beyond category. Its roots are in jazz but, especially on Worship Of Self, it also embraces the Western classical tradition, bringing to mind the genius of Leonard Bernstein.
Jansson hails from Sweden's second city, Gothenburg, but frequently visits Japan with his trio and is a self-proclaimed Zen Buddhist, and his meditative compositions reflect this. In his sleeve notes, Jansson says they are "built on melodic, tonal and atonal language," and quotes American modernist composer Charles Ives: "Why tonality, as such, should be thrown out for good, I can't see, why it should always be present, I can't see."
Here, Jansson plays with the Danish classical MidtVest Ensemble, ten musicians who came together in 2002 to "perform and convey a wide repertoire of classical chamber music." Jansson met up with them as a result of working as a guest professor at the Danish universities of Aarhus and Esbjerg.
The result is a program of thinking person's music that may or may not be jazz. It opens with "Savasan," named after a yoga position, but which is also the title of a series of paintings by New York artist David Shapiro. A portentous artistic statement? Not a bit of it. It's deceptively simple and highly melodic, with a quite rhapsodic opening statement.
In contrast, "Schooldance" has an almost disco groove, with bass and drums to the fore and a simple, bluesy theme. "River Falls," a short version of a piece commissioned by the University of Wisconsin, is in two keys.
The peaceful and melodic "The Wounded Healer Can Heal" features some pleasant harmonies, with Jansson's nicely understated piano serving as a counterpoint to the strings, until he branches out on a beautifully constructed solo that singles him out as one of the most interesting players in Europe.
"Awakening" is the first movement of a classical suite in four parts, with no improvisation or solos, containing hints of Duke Ellington and the French impressionists. One of the set's best tracks, "Pinot Noir," follows, at first a lazy, lyrical tribute to the grape that gains in momentum about a third of the way through and goes on to feature a fine solo by bassist Christian Spering.
"Where Is The Blues 1" and "Where Is The Blues 3" are predecessors to "Where Is The Blues 4"featured on Jansson's last album, In Search Of Lost Time (Prophone, 2011)and are, perhaps, this disc's most abstract compositions.
The title number was penned by Jansson as an instrumental chorale, worshipping "the eternal spirit inside, the True Self," and closes out a truly terrific album.
Track Listing: Savasan; Schooldance; River Falls; The Wounded Healer Can Heal; Awakening; Pinot Noir; Where Is The Blues 1; Giving Receiving; Where Is The Blues 3; What is Tomorrow; Worship Of Self.
Personnel: Lars Jansson: piano; Christian Spering: bass; Anders Kjellberg: drums. Ensemble MidtVest.