By 1953-54, when these sessions were recorded in Stockholm, pianist Bengt Hallberg had been a resplendent star on the Swedish jazz scene for more than half a dozen years. Unremarkable, one might surmise, until he learns that Hallberg turned twenty-two on September 13, 1954, by which time he had already won a nationwide competition for young composers and recorded with such American stars as saxophonist Stan Getz
and trumpeter Clifford Brown
Hallberg was a fifteen-year-old high school student when he took part in his first recording session as a member of bassist Thore Jederby's quintet in the summer of 1948. Three years later he was recording with Getz on a date that introduced a popular version of the Swedish folk song "Ack Värmeland du sköna" ("Dear Old Stockholm ).
At the end of 1954, shortly after the first of these three all-star sessions was recorded, Hallberg was named Estrad magazine's Jazz Musician of the Year, an honor that was accompanied by a pair of gold cuff-links. The second session, recorded in January 1954 and titled Swingin' in Sweden, was produced by jazz critic Leonard Feather, who enlisted Americans Ernie Englund on trumpet, Red Mitchell on bass and Bobby White on drums to enlarge Hallberg's group. Englund reappears on the last of these sessions, recorded a week later, with Mitchell and White replaced by Simon Brehm and Robert Edman, respectively.
Besides Hallberg, the common denominators on all the sessions are baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin and trombonist Åke Persson. Brehm, saxophonist Arne Domnérus and drummer William Schöpffe round out the ensemble on session one, tenor saxophonist Carl-Henrik Norin on session two, clarinetist Puttte Wickman and French hornist Åke Björkman on session three.
As none of the sessions was extensive, we are given first, second and even third takes of a number of tunes, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it shows the subtle variations in color, harmony, timing, group interaction and, above all, improvisation that separate one reading from another. There are three takes of "Pink Lady and "Blues in Fourths, two each of "Side Car, "Red Wails in the Sunset and "Doe Eyes, increasing the playing time to a generous 75:33.
Those who are familiar with jazz in Sweden will know that this is the absolute best it had to offer at the time. Others will have to take my word for it. Hallberg, Persson, Domnérus, Wickman and especially Gullin are legendary figures, among the most accomplished jazz musicians Sweden has ever produced, and beacon lights for such younger lions as pianist Jan Lundgren, trombonists Mimmi and Karin Hammar, trombonist Vincent Nilsson, trumpeter Peter Asplund and saxophonist John Högman, among others.
Any album on which Lars Gullin plays a prominent role is by definition indispensable. Even though these are Hallberg's dates, he, Persson, Domnérus, Wickman and the others are simply luscious icing on an already tantalizing Gullin-variety dessert.