Jan Lundgren / Bengt Hallberg: Back 2 Back (2012)
An historic meeting of two giants of modern jazz in Sweden. Bengt Hallberg, born 1932, helped to found the idiom via his work with alto saxophonist Arne Domnérus in the 1950s and attracted international attention by recording with such US legends as Clifford Brown and Stan Getz. Leonard Feather praised his "unique light-fingered style."
Jan Lundgren, born 1966, gigged with Domnérus and the great Swedish clarinetist Putte Wickman before going up against such visiting American luminaries as Johnny Griffin, Benny Golson, Herb Geller and James Moody. His albums for the local Sittel labelSwedish Standards (1997) and Landscapes (2003)continued the tradition established by pianist Jan Johansson of wedding jazz techniques to Swedish folk music.
Producer Torgil Rosenberg brings Hallberg and Lundgren together for the first time on his small but important Volenza label. He placed them literally back to back, playing grand pianos in a Swedish Radio studio in Stockholm. It was Hallberg's first recording in nine years. Rosenberg describes the session as producing "seminal moments of musical communication."
It opens with "All Things," a playful right-hand piece based on the chord sequence of "All The Things You Are" in which the duo get to know one another musically. This is followed by "Autumn Walk," a lovely, melancholy ballad by Hallberg inspired by the first days of fall.
Next comes Lundgren's "The Longest Night," in which a dark arpeggio pattern broadens out into lush romanticism. It reflects his considerable knowledge of The Great American Songbook without ever being derivative.
Two originals by Hallberg follow. "Cheers" is a ragtime romp, followed by the swinging, "Lucky Corner," dedicated to a chance meeting between two people, the angularities of initial contact soon settling into gentle familiarity.
Things get heavy with the duo's treatment of Frans Schubert's "Ständchen, Opus 135," often used as a practice piece by budding pianists. Some liberties are taken but it's unlikely that the composer would have minded too much.
There's a salute to the swing era with "Sweet Georgia Brown," another look at ragtime in the shape of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," while Lundgren's involvement with French accordionist Richard Galliano no doubt accounts for the inclusion of Charles Trenet's whimsical "La Polka Du Roi."
Perhaps the two most interesting tracks as far as jazz lovers are concerned are kept until last: "Picasso Blues," a surrealist blues that mixes tempos and keys over a 12-bar format, followed by a freewheeling treatment of "Lover Man," immortalized in very different ways by Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker.
Track Listing: All Things; Autumn Walk; The Longest Night; Cheers; Lucky Corner; Ständchen, Opus 135; London 5:30; Sweet Georgia Brown; La Polka Du Roi; Maple Leaf Rag; Picasso Blues; Lover Man.
Personnel: Jan Lundgren: piano; Bengt Hallberg: piano.
Record Label: Volenza