There's something strange about how modern jazz often defies the laws of physics, which specify that two particles of matter can't occupy the same space at the same time.
Swedish saxophonist Andreas Gidlund's The Happiest Man Alive is a Michael Brecker-like fusing of contemporary jazz hooks with post bop calking (mostly the latter), the sort of thing that can please listeners in both camps while not hitting the pinnacle of either. It's a solid start-to-finish collection of originals and standards, easy to appreciate while spinning, even if it doesn't linger in the consciousness.
Indeed, some of his quartet's best playing got overlooked during an initial listen, because the material tends to get meatier as the album progresses. "Soho Dot Rhythm" opens with an almost Spyro Gyra-ish casual swing gait. The title track is an alternating peppy/lazy piece reminiscent of Brecker's '80s days, with rapid and accomplished soloing by Gidlund and pianist Fabian Kallerdahl, but little sense of trailblazing. "Lost And Found" is a gliding ballad that slides off a bit too easily.
The lull ends with "Afro Blue," where Gidlund's contemporary tenor tone acquires a stronger free-form assertiveness that supplements the composition's familiar upbeat scorch nicely. He keeps it going with "We're Leaving Into The Commotion (Nu Gar Vi Hem Igen)," despite the fact that the piece is another rather meager ballad, as the basics of the song are left behind in an Afro-Cuban escalation that finds the players' solos outdoing the evolving middling pace.
But too many times it feels like the players are holding back, as evidenced on closing songs like the upbeat "After Ski" and two-part "The Nissan Cherry Car Suite" (the latter featuring Gidlund on a pleasant-toned baritone). Kallerdahl, drummer Lars "Lade" Kallfelt, and bassist Mattias Geonroos match Gidlund in playing ably, but with conservative and sparse phrasing. It's like hearing a dinner set by a talented group before it lets go later in the evening.
The Happiest Man Alive is not a bad album, but ultimately it's a mainstream set that suffers too much from the smooth jazz syndrometrying to be pleasing to a wide variety of people and therefore failing to excite most of them. The solution isn't necessarily a narrower focus; Gidlund also performs with a Dixie group, so maybe expanding his efforts into that range as well might result in a more innovative collage.
Personnel: Andreas Gidlund: tenor and baritone saxophones; Fabian Kallerdahl: piano; Lars "Lade"
Kallfelt: drums; Mattias Geonroos: double bass; Magnus Boguist: lap steel guitar (9).