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Anders Jormin: Touching the Heart and Spirit

John Kelman By

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Swedish bassist, compser, bandleader and educator Anders Jormin may be best known to North American audiences as a member of Charles Lloyd's and Tomasz Stanko's mid-'90s ECM label quartets along with pianist Bobo Stenson. He's also been a longstanding participant in Stenson's own trio, with three sublime recordings released on ECM since '96 including the subtle yet substantive double-disk set, Serenity. But the truth of the matter is that Jormin has been forging his own career since the mid-'80s, first with a series of recordings for the always-quality but not always easy-to-obtain Swedish Dragon label, and more recently with two ECM recordings including the just-released song cycle In winds, in light , that brings a new meaning to the term "sacred music." Jormin's projects may be stylistically difficult to pigeonhole, but throughout his career a constant has been his commitment to finding new ways to make the music and his instrument sing. And it is just that diverse aesthetic that makes every new release from Jormin both a surprise and a confirmation.

Early Days

"I do come from a musical family in the sense that my father was a professional jazz musician before I was born," says Jormin, "although by the time I was born he had quit the professional musician life to get a more ordinary job in order to support the family. So I learned the basic rules of standard jazz language in early childhood, and so did my brother Christian, who is five years younger than me. We played a lot of jazz music at home when I was young, so I had a good foundation. Then I did more traditional training at music school, classical music first on piano and later on the double-bass; I finally ended up studying at the conservatory and then moving to Gotenberg, where I studied music at the university level for a number of years."

But while Jormin was deeply involved with the classical tradition, his own aesthetic was already being formed through exposure not only to jazz, but to the Swedish folk tradition. And at an early age Jormin was already looking at ways to combine these three diverse influences into a more personal approach. "I don't think it was a very conscious goal in the beginning," Jormin explains, "but it has been very natural for me. As a Scandinavian musician studying music, I studied classical music and I studied jazz music, which I already knew a lot about from my upbringing with my father. But we also have a folk music tradition that is more and more alive in Sweden. It was, of course, very strong a hundred years ago, fifty years ago, but then almost completely disappeared, and now it's coming back. There were good players who inspired me as a young musician, for example a well-known musician in Sweden named Jon Johansson, who really dug deep into the folk music tradition while still being definitely a jazz player So that and classical music always interested me. I always had those three things going on in my head and played them in different ways at different times. I take all my inspirations and influences into some kind of melting pot which is inside my heart, and what comes out is, I hope, my personality."

When asked who he would cite as influences from a jazz perspective, Jormin names few artists. "As a very young player I listened a lot to Miles and Coltrane," Jormin says, "and, of course, I'm not the only one. But I still say to students when they ask a question like this, 'John Coltrane is my house god,' for the energy and strength and power in his music. As a young musician/bassist I was quite fascinated by both Charlie Haden and Gary Peacock—the early Gary Peacock, the Albert Ayler free music playing Gary Peacock, although they were quite different as musicians. Of the two I must say that Charlie Haden was a bigger influence for me in the beginning. Not for the way he played his bass, as I realize that they way I play bass has very little to do with him, but for the strength and power in the music he created. I was also very lucky to play with Joe Henderson quite early on in my career, and that was a big inspiration, and I still find him as an underestimated genius on tenor saxophone."

Emerging on the Swedish Scene

Emerging onto the Swedish scene in the late '70s and early '80s, Jormin had the opportunity for exposure to a wide variety of players in Gotenberg, a city where the emphasis seemed more on the cultivation of creative music rather than event-based music. "There was quite a happening music scene in the late '70s and early '80s," explains Jormin, "and I was fortunate to move to Gotenberg, the second largest city in Sweden, which had quite a living musical situation with lots of different music and musicians happening. At that time musicians were moving from different parts of Sweden to either Stockholm or Gotenberg. But looking back you can definitely see that, while Stockholm tended to be a more traditional jazz centre—big band music, entertainment music, etc.—Gotenberg became more concert music, the improvised music being played in concerts rather than behind a star, sitting in a big band. So the scenes were different and, looking back, I am happy that I decided to go to Gotenberg rather than Stockholm as a young player because for me that scene was much more interesting and challenging.

"The local jazz club," continues Jormin, "which is a very good and quite famous one called Nefertiti, still did the kind of concerts where an American star—Dexter Gordon or Horace Parlan for example—would travel up here and play with local rhythm sections. So I was fortunate to do that kind of gig for a couple of years; had I been a couple of years younger I would have missed that whole way of doing jazz music -the star coming and playing with the local guys which was, of course, a very interesting education for me. That, combined with studying in school, was very, very good experience for me."

First Projects and Bobo Stenson

By the mid-'80s Jormin had already established himself as a player of note on the Swedish scene, recording his first album as a leader, Nordic Lights in '84. It was on this album that Jormin first teamed up with pianist Bobo Stenson, already a local legend through his classic recordings with saxophonist Jan Garbarek for ECM. "The first situation where we played together," explains Jormin, "was when I formed my first serious band, which was called Nordic Lights, and also became my first album under my own name. We played my arrangements of Scandinavian classical music. It was all by the major composers of Scandinavia -Danes, Norwegians and Swedes mostly. I rearranged them for a quartet with saxophone, piano, bass and drums and I asked Bobo to play in the band. He came to Gotenberg and we started working together and I guess we found each other quite immediately on a musical level, although he was already very experienced and I was quite a young guy, but it worked very well. Later on he got me playing with the band Rene Rama, where I replaced Palle Danielsson; that was quite a well-known jazz quartet.

"I really admire Bobo's ability to improvise in the truest meaning," continues Jormin. "I can honestly say that, having played a lot of concerts with him and, for short periods, basically the same material evening after evening, it is never the same. From the first note it may be completely different. That was a big inspiration for me and I still admire it, because in the whole world of jazz players, I have actually come to realize that few are true improvisers, and Bobo is one of them. His music is not built upon patterns or anything like that -pre-worked arrangements. And he is never interested in trying to redo the success of last night. If you suddenly come up with something interesting onstage it's very tempting to do it again. He is not very interested in that, and that's also a good example of a really strong improviser. Additionally, he has classical studies in his background, and on the records we have done together there's always a couple of classical pieces, most of them from my pen or suggestions/arrangements from me, but he is always happy when I come up with them."

Alone

Jormin's second album, Eight Pieces also featured Stenson, but in a larger ensemble and, at the same time, Jormin began to work as part of Stenson's own trio. For his third release, '91's Alone , Jormin would make a move that is risky even for an established bassist, by recording an album of solo double-bass music. But the album, which combined in-the-moment improvisations with lyrical interpretations of material by artists including one of his favourite composers, the Cuban Silvio Rodriguez, established Jormin's reputation as a bassist of note. "The album actually gained me enormous positive credit for many years," Jormin says. "That record suddenly gained me a name as one of the major bassists in Scandinavia, basically overnight. I received many different awards and prizes, so sometimes it's worth taking the risk."

Charles Lloyd and Tomasz Stanko

His association with Stenson would lead to his first recording for ECM, Charles Lloyd's '92 recording, Notes from Big Sur. "That was my first experience with Manfred Eicher," Jormin says, "playing with Charles Lloyd. I think Charles must have asked Bobo who he should use, and Bobo recommended me. I know he was very happy with the band during those years. It meant a lot to him. We had some wonderful years and tours, some great experiences for me, I'm very happy for that period."

While Lloyd would supply almost all the compositions for the four recordings Jormin made with him, he trusted his group's instincts implicitly. "His compositions," explains Jormin, "were quite often just sketches, a little unfinished or a little vague, probably on purpose. He would come with directions, because we did rehearse—not very much, but we did rehearse. But his directions were very typical Charles Lloyd—I can give you an example from my first rehearsal, which I'll never forget. He looked at me and said, 'Give me some St. Petersburg.' That was what he wanted to hear from me, and I was of course, quite unsure. What kind of music is that? And another, 'Take me to India.' Most of his instructions were so emotional and coloured by his imagination and his way of thinking musically, so what they actually meant, both for me and for Bobo, was, 'Go ahead guys, and play what you think fits the simple sketch I've done.' Bobo and I would also do some work with his compositions—we added a chord here, added a bar there, and suddenly the sketches worked very well. Charles never asked, 'What did you do with this composition, suddenly it sounds good,' but it was ultimately a good collective process."
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