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Putte Wickman was one of a handful of top flight jazz clarinetists born in the 1920s who survived the demise of the big swing bands and made a successful transition to bebop. Along with Buddy DeFranco, with whom he recorded, and Tony Scott, Wickman created a whole new vocabulary for the instrument. His self-taught virtuosity was reminiscent in its soaring, swooping fluency to that displayed by Sidney Bechet in another era and another style. Had he not chosen to live and make his career in his native Sweden, Wickman would have been recognized as world class. Yet, while he played on equal terms with a great many top flight US musicians, it wasn't until 1993 that he found a true musical soul-mate in pianist Roger Kellaway, who was guesting at the Stockholm Jazz Festival.
Their encounter is documented on the first five tracks of Simple Isn't Easy. They get to know one another in a delightfully unconventional reading of the ballad "Who Can I Turn To?" before continuing in devastatingly inventive form. No more so than on Red Mitchell's "Simple Isn't Easy," with Kellaway dropping passing references to stride and ragtime before a stunning free section, in which he and Wickman achieve almost telepathic empathy. In an interview with the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in 2003, Wickman, a man not given to exaggeration, described Kellaway's playing as "unbelievable...unique." Much the same might be said of his own.
After such dizzying heights, it comes almost as a relief to hear Wickman in more conventional guise on four tracks recorded at the 1994 festival, when his Swedish accompanists are far more subdued than LA's ebullient Kellaway; reverent, even, as well they should be.
Wickman's death in 2006 left a huge, gaping hole in the Swedish musical scene. While he flirted with other genres (classical concerts in churches and glitzy showbiz extravaganzas on primetime TV), in the right company, this man would push jazz, his true art, to almost stratospheric levels of excellence. This album is a fitting and long overdue memorial to that side of his musical personality.
Track Listing: Who Can I Turn To? There'll Never Be Another You; Simple Isn't Easy; Emily; Just Friends; Old Folks; Like Someone In Love; How High The Moon; Days of Wine and Roses.
Personnel: Putte Wickman: clarinet; Roger Kellaway: piano (1-5); Gosta Rundqvist: piano (6-9); Dan Berglund: bass (6-9); Petur Ostlund: drums (6-9).