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Peter Asplund: Asplund Meets Bernstein

Chris Mosey By

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This reverent but highly accessible and creative tribute to Leonard Bernstein, by Swedish trumpeter Peter Asplund, will undoubtedly be a leading contender for his homeland's next Golden Record (Gyllene Skivan) award. It's the most important jazz album to emerge from the Nordic Area in a good long while.

Asplund's collaboration with Mats Hålling—a composer and arranger who writes everything from modern classical music to Swedish pop—brings to mind, in a low key kind of way, Miles Davis' landmark collaborations with Gil Evans. Thanks to the presence of the Dalasinfoniettan symphony orchestra, there are echoes too of the best of the Third Stream experiments from the 1950s and '60s.

The songs chosen by Asplund provide comprehensive coverage of Bernstein's career. The opener, "A Simple Song," is from MASS, commissioned by Jackie Kennedy for the 1971 opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Because of its sacrilegious and anti-establishment content, it was investigated by the FBI, which advised President Nixon not to attend opening night. He didn't, cleverly claiming his non-appearance was in deference to his hostess. "(It) should really be her night," said a very Tricky Dicky.

The song sets the tone for the album. Hålling's arrangement remains, for the most part, faithful to Bernstein's original score, but there's a jazz interlude featuring some fine work by the leader, pianist Jacob Karlzon and bassist Hans Andersson.

"Glitter And Be Gay," Bernstein's aria from Candide—his opera based on Voltaire's novella—flirts with atonality, on occasion sounding downright sinister. Although Bernstein was, gay is meant in its old sense of the word, with nice work by Karlzon and a fine outro from Asplund.

Then there's "It's Love," from Wonderful Town, which opened on Broadway in 1953. It's one of the least successful tracks, featuring a rather indecisive arrangement, an irritating free passage and a drum solo by Johan Löfcrantz Ramsay that's largely superfluous, but then again, what drum solo isn't?

"Some Other Time," from the 1944 musical On The Town, is one of the standout tracks. Jazz-wise, Asplund comes close to retrieving the song from pianist Bill Evans, featuring nice interplay with Karlzon, followed by a breathy ending.

"It Must Be So/Candide's Lament" forms a prelude to a West Side Story section, made up of "I Feel Pretty," "Somewhere" and "Tonight." Karlzon's solo on the first of these is a tour de force, as is Asplund's, which follows. There's a fine, subtle ending to "Somewhere" from Karlzon and good orchestrated drum work by Löfcrantz Ramsay on "Tonight," though its wham bam ending is a trifle clichéd.

The symphony orchestra drops out for most of the last track, "Neverland," taken from Bernstein's largely forgotten 1950 version of Peter Pan, with the melody harkening back, at times, to "Some Other Time."

This is fine, thinking man's jazz, worthy of worldwide attention.

Track Listing: A Simple Song; Glitter And Be Gay; It's Love; Some Other Time; It Must Be So/Candide's Lament; I Feel Pretty; Somewhere; Tonight; Neverland.

Personnel: Peter Asplund: trumpet; Jacob Karlzon: piano; Hans Andersson: bass; Johan Löcrantz Ramsay: drums; Mats Hålling: conductor/arranger of Dalasinfoniettan.

Title: Asplund Meets Bernstein | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Prophone Records

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