To the English-speaking world, the titles of Blaslatar's songs may be daunting to pronounce, but it's strongly advised to get over it because that is when the true majesty and breathtaking beauty of Jonas Knutsson's playing can be truly appreciated. The saxophonist was raised in Umea, Sweden by parents who hosted the annual jazz festival there. Knutsson's first instrument was the alto, and he played mainly in the jazz idiom until he met vocalist Lena Willemark, who persuaded him to seek a life in the Swedish folk tradition, much like Nadia Boulanger suggested to a young Brazilian, Egberto Gismonti. Since then Knutsson has been associated with a number of prominent Europeans chief among them, his fellow Swedes, composer Johan Soderquist, percussionist Bengt Berger, multi-instrumentalist Ale Moller and keyboard wizard Mats Oberg, with whom he made the sensational Jonas Knutsson...Mats Oberg Live (Country & Eastern, 2008).
Blåslåtar may be not just his best yet, but one of the finest albums made by any saxophonist in a very long time. Knutsson plays no less than 31 folk songs from a large swathe of Swedenoriginal music written for and almost never played on anything but the traditional fiddle and nyckelharp. Both instruments can be played with limitless glissandi and vibrato, because they are stringed instruments and require that the musician use only his fingers and hands, parts of the body that can be taught to play at various speeds, continuously, for a very long time. What Knutsson does here, however, is nothing short of miraculous, as he has commanded his body to breathe according to his whim and not involuntarily as most humans do. This goes well beyond the circular breathing that saxophonists such as Pharoah Sanders practice. So breathtaking is his playing, with such soaring glissandi and fluttering vibrato, that it is impossible to discern the pause for breath. Of course he does, or he would certainly turn blue and die. However, whether he is playing soprano or sopraninohis instrument of choiceor even baritone, which he does on "Min levnads afton, Bingsjo, Dalarna" and "Polska fran Skog, Skog, Halsingland," Knutsson is able to almost perfectly mimic the swinging and sliding of the nykelharp and the fiddle.
Knutsson is also one of the most expressive saxophonists playing today. Combine this with his flawless technique and Knutsson becomes an artist in the Liszt tradition. His playing may not be dramatic as Liszt's was, but with deepoften achingemotion he is able to summon feelings from the very depths of his soul. This might put Knutsson in the same league that was once occupied only by Charlie Parker and John Coltranenot only in terms of sheer mastery of technique, but also when it comes to innovation and creativity. Geographically challenged Americans might cry blasphemy, but then they probably did when Gismonti arrived on the scene too.
Track Listing: Polska efter Tomas Anders, Alvdalen Dalarna; Koiklaten, Skarvsjoby, Lappland; Hinders Jerks polska, Bingsjo, Dalarna; Hambraeuspolsken, Orsa, Dalarna; Polska efter Junkas Jonas, Bingsjo, Dalarna; Polska efter Karns Hans, Orsa, Dalarna; Polska efter Mats Hanson, Alvdalen, Dalarna; Lorikspolska nr. 1, Orsa, Dalarna; Jemsken, Alvdalen, Dalarna; Min levnads afton, Bingjo, Dalarna; Polska fran Skog, Skog, Halsingland; Polska Per-Johan Arnstron, Basksjo, Lappland; Polska efter Knuter Jon, Ore, Dalarna; Magdalenapolskan, Smaland; Grins Hans jasspodspolska, Rattvik, Dalarna; Nordlandssommer, Asle, Lappland; Lat efter Taklax, Korsnas, Osterbotten; Orsa Storpolska, Orsa; Gammal polska e Blekos, Orsa, Dalarna; Polska efter Jon Marsen, Baskele, Lappland; Lappolska, Asle, Lappland; Lillpolskan, Orsa, Dalarna; Polska efter Pekkos Per, Bingsjo, Dalarna; Polska efter Pers Olle, Rattvik, Dalarna; Snygg Olles Polska, Rattvik, Dalarna; Tokpolskan, Bingsjo, Dalarna; Forslundspolskan, Orsa, Dalarna; Polska fran Barseback, Barseback, Skane; Om Dagen, Vilhemina, Lappland; Baggbolebakens klagan, Umea,
Personnel: Jonas Knutsson: sopranino, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones.
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.