ACT: 20 Years of Magical Music
Nils Landgren Funk Unit
If Bugge Wesseltoft wanted to avoid commercialism and ended up creating a bestseller, it's quite another story with eclectic trombonist Nils Landgren, who isn't afraid to delve deep into the waters of pop. The cover is about as tasteless as a cover can be and shows a blue moose doing a funky dance, but luckily there's more to the music than fun and kitsch.
As it is, Funky ABBA is in fact a bold experiment that transforms perfect Swedish pop into urban funk. The material on this album consists of evergreens written by the legendary group ABBA, whose chief songwriter, Benny Andersson, gave the project his blessing and even turns up playing piano on the ballad "When All Is Said and Done."
It's hard to imagine ABBA's pure pop songs transformed into smooth and steaming funk, but actually it makes perfect sense when the music plays and the groove is on. "Money, Money, Money" cooks with bubbling organ, synthesizers, wah-wah-guitar and a rap section and "Dancing Queen" turns down the tempo of the original and becomes a silky and slowly unfolding soul anthem.
Nils Landgren is indeed a postmodern enfant terrible and this experiment could easily be written off as some kind of curious gimmick; but, in reality, Landgren does what jazz always has done with standards, he interprets the material and makes it new. The blueprint for this record is that the musicians obviously dig the music and it's a joy that is communicated so well that all reservations about the project disappear.
Rigmor Gustafsson and the Jacky Terrasson Trio
Close to You
The musical diversity of Nils Landgren is underlined by the fact that he is credited as a producer and guest musician on the Swedish singer Rigmor Gustafsson's album with the Jacky Terrasson Trio. Close to You is a tribute to Dionne Warwick and mainly concentrates on covers of the songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David that made Warwick famous.
From start to finish, it is a work of pure class. Gustafsson's smoky voice wraps itself around the crystalline chords of Jacky Terrasson's piano on "Close to You" and she adds just the right amount of bittersweet regret on an elegant version of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."
Terrasson is particularly inspired on "Alfie," where he carves out an intro whose spacious chords and delicate use of harmony sets the scene for Gustafsson as she tells the tale of the world while a river of sorrow flows underneath.
While it's the tender ballads that really make Gustafsson shine, there's also room for a bit of swing, funk and fun. "What the World Needs Now" gets a playful treatment, with the chorus fired up by Terrasson's rollicking piano, while Diana Warren's "Much Too Much" is swinging funk with brass and Fender Rhodes. Close to You is a convincing outing from one of the label's most charismatic singers.
Shining on You
Viktoria Tolstoy is another prominent singer signed to ACT, and on Shining on You , Nils Landgren once again turns up as a producer. The material this time isn't classic pop penned by Bacharach and David, or American standards, but instead the focus is on ACT's very own star, the pianist and composer Esbjorn Svensson whose trio, e.s.t., achieved worldwide acclaim. Tragically, Svensson passed away in 2008 when he had a scuba diving accident, but his work still continues to influence other musicians and on this album, Tolstoy showcases his undeniable qualities as a composer of timeless compositions.
The title track is a heartfelt ballad graced by Landgren's trombone and Tolstoy singing lines like: "easy living is hard to find," but in spite of its acknowledgement of darkness, in its essence, the song is about the rays of hope that can be found everywhereeven when it's dark.
Other ballad highlights are "Wonder Why," where Lars Danielsson's delicate bass playing adds to the atmosphere, and "No Regrets" with the nostalgic tone of harmonica player Toots Thielemans and a lush string section performed by The Stockholm Session Strings. Shining on You shows a less experimental side of Svensson, but is nonetheless strong in its compositional ability to tap into universally human feelingsthese are songs that aspire to become standards and are perfectly sung by Tolstoy's translucent voice.