Ulf Wakenius: Vagabond (2012)
Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius is perhaps best known for his ten year stint in pianist Oscar Peterson's trio, following in the footsteps of guitarists Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis and Joe Pass. Wakenius clocked up enough road miles with Peterson to have traveled to the moon and back, and he also toured extensively and recorded with bassists Ray Brown and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. These heavyweight associations have tended to overshadow his own projects as leader, which date back more than two decades to his group with drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Bill Evans (saxophone), trumpeter Randy Brecker, pianist Niels Lan Doky and bassist Lars Danielsson.
Since signing to ACT Music in the mid-2000s, Wakenius has paid singular tribute to two of the most influential pianists of the last forty years, Keith Jarrett on Notes from the Heart (ACT Music, 2005) and the late, sorely lamented Esbjorn Svensson on Love is Real (ACT Music, 2008). In the process, Wakenius has demonstrated his proclivity for interpreting a tune with originality and respect. The acoustic Vagabond is a halfway house between original material and covers, and explores a wide range of stylistic and emotional terrain. English guitarist John McLaughlin once wrote that Wakenius sounded as if he was born with a guitar in his hands, and in truth he has never sounded better.
Wakenius' virtuosity is a given, though his lightening fast runs which pepper the set could slacken the jaws of the most jaded guitar aficionados. However, even his most fluid lines, on pianist Lyle Mays's lovely "Chorinho" or Attila Zoller's infectious "Birds and Bees, (a duet with son Eric), have tremendous melodic narrative. Wakenius demonstrates subtlety and lyricism on a beautiful interpretation of Jarrett's "Encore" and on the self-penned "Song for Japan," where damped strings create the sound of a Japanese lute, on this moving ode.
Wakenius conjures the troubled Middle East on the dramatic "Breakfast in Baghdad." Danielsson's bass brings powerful counterpoint to the guitarist's darting lines, while accordionist Vincent Peirani reprises the role singer Youn Sun Nah performed with Wakenius on her own Same Girl (ACT, 2010). Wakenius and Nah have formed a striking partnership in recent years and she lends her seductive vocals to a beautifully simple but affecting take on The Police classic "Message in a Bottle," with guitarist Nguyen Le adding wavy, singing lines. Peirani and Danielsson make significant contributions throughout; the accordionist weaves delightful French, Argentinean and Arab textureshis playing on the dramatic title track is exceptional while the bassist lends two striking compositions in the form of the blues-tinged nostalgia of "Psalmen" and the gentle, Iberian-flavored "Praying."
Wakenius pays personal tribute to saxophonist Jim Pepper on "Witchi-Tai-To," complete with memorable Native American chants. Wakenius' star shines brightly on these 11 cuts, though it is the space he allows for all the voices on Vagabond which ultimately makes it such a resounding success. Uniformly strong compositions and wonderful, empathetic playing from all mark this recording out as one of the guitarist's finest efforts. One more time to the moon and back, please.
Track Listing: Vagabond; Message in a Bottle; Bretagne; Psalmen; Breakfast in Baghdad; Song for Japan; Birds and Bees; Praying; Chorinho; Witchi-Tai-To; Encore.
Personnel: Ulf Wakenius: acoustic guitars, oud, chant; Vincent Peirani: accordion, accordina, voice; Lars Danielsson: bass, cello; Eric Wakenius: acoustic steel string guitar; Michael Dahlvid: darbuka, cajon; Youn Sun Nah: vocals (2); Nguyen Le: electric guitar (2).