Big bands weren’t exactly on an upward curve—in Sweden or anywhere else—when Harry Arnold formed the Swedish Radio Studio Orchestra in 1956. Nevertheless, the band had a brief but highly successful run, appearing regularly on radio and even recording an album in the U.S. before Arnold left in 1965 to pursue other interests and the ensemble was gradually transformed into the smaller Swedish Radio Jazz Group.
The selections on this two-disc set were taped for radio broadcast but never released (the orchestra made no commercial recordings after 1961). Too bad, as they capture Arnold’s orchestra at its zenith with engaging charts by Peter Jacques (who wrote half of the arrangements on Vol. 1), Bengt-Arne Wallin, Bosse Broberg, Runo Ericksson, Georg Riedel and Jan Johansson; and aces-high solos by the likes of pianist Johansson, bassist Riedel, trumpeters Broberg, Wallin and Gösta Nilsson, saxophonists Arne Domnérus, Bjarne Nerem, Rolf Bäckman and Rune Falk, trombonist Andreas Skjold, guitarist Rune Gustafsson and drummer Egil Johansen.
Domnérus, best known as an alto saxophonist, unsheathes a swinging clarinet on several numbers. There were two Americans in the lineup, trumpeter Nat Pavone and trombonist Kenny Rupp, who had come to Sweden in ‘64 with Maynard Ferguson’s big band and lingered awhile to become an integral part of Arnold’s ensemble.
What is most striking, besides the proficiency of the orchestra itself, is the crystal-clear sound, crisp separation and accurate balance, far better than one would expect from forty year-old tapes, and in fact as good as much of what is being produced in today’s digital age. The recordings were made in stereo on half-inch three-track tapes, the originals of which were preserved and filed by sound engineer and Jazz enthusiast Bampe Karlsson. In 1998, the tapes were unearthed and remixed to two-track stereo by Rune Andreasson, long-time recording engineer at Swedish Radio, and the results of his painstaking work can be heard and appreciated on these luminous albums, culled from more than six hours of material.
The music on both volumes is a charming blend of standards and originals with at least one soloist on every number. Domnérus, still a force in Swedish Jazz, is showcased on four selections including the lovely standard “Old Folks” and Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now,” Broberg on three (“What’s New?,” his own “King Valiant,” Riedel‘s “Promenad”), Johansson on Jacques‘ “Per Spelman,” Wallin‘s “Tina” and Riedel‘s “Gånglåt Från Roslags Näsby,” Nerem on “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and Ellington‘s “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” Gustafsson and Falk on two numbers each, Bäckman on “I Hear a Rhapsody,” which closes Volume 1.
Among the other composers represented are Richard Rodgers, George Gershwin, Jule Styne (a terrific reading of “Just in Time” featuring Domnérus and Nerem), Fats Waller, Charlie Parker, Marty Paich and Ornette Coleman. Even with the standards there’s not much dance music here; the accent is on high-caliber big-band Jazz, an arena in which Arnold’s orchestra quickly proves its mettle. This is a wonderful two-disc anthology, not only for Swedes but for anyone who appreciates a world-class orchestra performing music that truly is timeless. A hearty round of applause to Dragon Records for making it available.
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