Swedish trumpet player Peter Asplund wears a good many musical hats, but it is with his jazz quartet that he's really starting to make waves. His last album with the group, Lochiel's Warning,
made him something of a local hero. Now As Knights Concur
seems set to put him on the road to international recognition. Forget the pompous title, it's the music that counts. Asplund's idea is that listeners should be led gently into improvisation. The opener, his own composition, "In a Pensive Place," does just this, with pianist Jacob Karlzon playing a slow-drop, basically modal intro backed by some interesting cymbal work from drummer Johan Lofcrantz Ramsay that evokes the deep, dark forests of their homeland. Asplund states a simple, but hauntingly meditative theme before launching into uncharted territory. Karlzon is at the top of his McCoy Tyner-influenced game on this one.
Asplund says, "One of the quartet's missions is to get the audience to understand that we play standards the same way we play our own stuff." Yeah, but... To my taste, the arrangement of Henry Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses," which follows, is far too loose, allowing the beautiful old song to just fizzle out. "My Funny Valentine," on the other hand, is very well arranged and something of a triumph in that Asplund has managed to create a genuinely new version of this obligatory trumpet anthem. It's the stand-out track, with nice work from all concerned, including a fine bass solo from Hans Andersson.
Asplund's own composition "Wonderyear" is another excellent track. The trumpeter says it was influenced by a tune Chick Corea wrote for his first acoustic album, though it reminded me of Miles when Miles was Miles (not the weirdo wannabe rock star he became in his dotage). There's another reference to the great man with the closer, a very pleasing version of "On Green Dolphin Street," featuring a memorable outro from the leader.
"The Prowlers," which Asplund has also performed with the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, is nicely atmospheric, a theme in search of a movie, or perhaps a TV series? The writer says, "I think a lot in soundtrack terms when I compose. The tune came to me when I took a cab to downtown Stockholm for a night out with the boys. I saw a typical big city. Neon lights, dark streets, people on the move... the ingredients for a jazzy crime movie."
Carlzon's lyrical solo on the old Bobby Hebb hit "Sunny" is worthy of mention. It's nice to hear him heeding the old adage that less is often more, putting Tyner on the back burner for a while and letting in a little Bill Evans. It's to be hoped that, in the vastly uncertain world of the music business, these guys (knights, if you must!) get the encouragement and opportunities they'll need to stick together, continue to develop their own voices and take their art further. If that happens, this album could be the precursor of great things to come.