It wasn’t long after Jazz was born that America’s classical music made its way across the Atlantic to Europe, where perhaps no other country embraced Jazz so passionately and produced as many masterful advocates as Sweden. In the early ’50s, when bop reigned supreme both here and abroad, Sweden was second only to the U.S. in the number and quality of musicians following the adventurous trail blazed by Bird, Diz, Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke and their colleagues, giving rise to what is correctly referred to in this marvelous three–disc set of reissues on Caprice Records as “The Golden Years.” It was a time of unparalleled enterprise and creativity, one that marked the emergence of a number of superior improvisers whose deference to America’s magisterial boppers did not slacken their creative energy or suppress their resourcefulness. Many of Sweden’s brightest stars arose during this fertile four–year span and are represented as leaders and / or sidemen on these discs. Any such inventory must begin, in our eyes, with the greatest of them all, baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin, whose consummate artistry is well–documented on Discs 1 and 3. Other Swedish luminaries whose names may (or may not) be familiar to Americans include trumpeters Rolf Ericson, Bengt–Arne Wallin and Jan Allan; trombonist Åke Persson; saxophonists Arne Domnérus, Bertil Löfdahl, Carl–Henrik Norin, Rolf Blomquist, Gösta Theselius and Bjarne Nerem; clarinetists Putte Wickman and Ove Lind; guitarists Rune Gustafsson and Rolf Berg; vibraphonist Stig Larsson; pianists Bengt Hallberg, Gunnar Svensson, Lennart Nilsson and Reinhold Svensson; bassists Georg Reidel, Gunnar Johnson, Yngve Åkerberg, Simon Brehm and Lasse Holmgren; and drummers Jack Norén, Robert Edman, Bert Dahlander and Egil Johansen — and that’s only a partial survey. Gullin’s even–tempered baritone is heard with a number of groups on Disc 1 as well as with his octet (“Merlin”) and quartet (“Brazil”), and leads off Disc 3 with quartet (“Danny’s Dream”) and septet (“Galium Verum”). He also performs with Clifford Brown, Art Farmer and the Swedish All–Stars (Disc 1) on Quincy Jones’ “Stockholm Sweetnin’,” wherein the Swedes more than hold their own with the American trumpeters. The disc opens with a splendid Theselius arrangement of “Laura,” recorded in April ’52 by the Expressens Elitorkester whose star–studded roster included Ericson, Persson, Wickman, Domnérus, Blomquist, Gullin, Hallberg, Brehm, Norén and guitarist Sten Carlberg. Other highlights (besides “Stockholm Sweetnin’,” enhanced by Brown’s typically breathtaking trumpet solo) include Gullin’s several appearances, four numbers by Hallberg’s various groups (ranging from quartet to octet) and enterprising solos by Ericson, Domnérus, Wickman and tenor Mikkel Flagstad (“Jumpin’ with Symphony Sid”) who turns in a fine Allen Eager / Brew Moore impression. There’s some slight surface noise on some of the earlier tracks, but not enough to be intrusive, and the restoration of most others (on all three discs) is excellent. Although lesser–known ensembles are the order of the day on Disc 2, they do number in their ranks Åkerberg, Norén, Dahlander, Berg, Edman, Persson, Wallin, Domnérus, Blomquist, Theselius, Nerem, Brehm, Reidel and Hallberg. The emphasis here is on alternative approaches (tongue–in–cheek trad Jazz by boppers Persson, Domnérus, Blomquist, Åkerberg, pianist Gunnar Svensson and others on “Dompans Slick i Botten Whispers”; more of the same by the Hep Cats, Storyville Creepers and Pygmé Jazz Band; a comedy act (we presume) in Swedish by Povel Ramel; Louis Prima / Louis Jordan style bombast by “Shouting” Ernie Englund and His Crazy Men; blues by singer Berit Fagerlund; Swedish bop by the vocal group the High Notes; boogie–woogie by “Hubbe” Bergstrom’s trio; urbane dance music by the Paramount–orkestern, and even some early rock by vocalist Gunnar “Silja–bloo” Nilson on Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”). The more straight–ahead groups include those led by swinging accordionist Lill–Arne Söderberg (Ove Lind’s “Duella”), smooth tenor Jan Henning Carlsson (“The Lady Is a Tramp”) and trumpeter Sven Sjöholm (“Basie Eyes,” “I’ve Found a New Baby”). Gullin sets the tone on Disc 3, which focuses on the mainstream with impressive selections by The Modern Swedes (a quartet featuring Persson and Hallberg) and ensembles led by Domnérus, Wickman, Hallberg, Reidel, Gustafsson, Carl–Henrik Norin and tenor saxophonist Hacke Björksten (who sounds like Richie Kamuca), among others. Playing times are extremely generous throughout but it’s good that the music speaks for itself, as the set’s 24–page booklet is written entirely in Swedish. These truly were the “Golden Years” for Swedish Jazz, and it is an enormous pleasure to be able to share them again. Our hat is off to Caprice for compiling this outstanding boxed set whose cover photo alone is priceless, picturing (left to right, as the caption says) Clifford Brown, Quincy Jones, Gunnar Johnson, Jack Norén, Art Farmer, Bengt Hallberg, Arne Domnérus, Åke Persson and Lars Gullin. What a memorable photograph! And what a marvelous snapshot of Swedish Jazz, circa 1952–55. It won’t stray far from our CD player, and is warmly recommended to anyone who appreciates high–grade Jazz that swings emphatically and often.
Contact:STIM / Svensk Musik, Box 27327, SE–102 54, Stockholm, Sweden. Phone +46 8 783 88 00. E–mail firstname.lastname@example.org; web site, www.mic.stim.se