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Bobo Stenson: A Discography


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This article has been updated since its original 2006 publish date.

Over the course of forty years, pianist Bobo Stenson (born 1944, Vasteras, Sweden) has been able to adapt himself to contribute in whatever way is necessary for the music at hand. Always being himself yet never calling attention to his prowess, he plies his skills on projects and always ends up leaving his mark.

As a leader, he is an alchemist who can extract, expose, and elevate the essence of a composition. Stenson's intensity is quite reserved, and the resulting impact of his music is cumulative rather than showy. A solo might never get very loud or fast, but—especially in trio settings, where his partners pick up his growing flame—the music can become dense and extroverted before falling back.

Stenson's music is based on space. Each note almost always has some space around it, separating it from its neighbors, creating the feeling of calm and of not rushing, no matter how fast the notes are played. The dynamics of the notes in a line can vary widely, and many times he plays a "ghost" note that is just hinted, which is idiomatic saxophone phrasing.

His phrases twist and turn, changing direction without warning, but which always move forward toward a goal, thus leading the listener but never being predictable. Finally, his sense of time is so strong that he can play out of time when there is a pulse, yet keep the sense of connection to the beat, and also play in time when there is no clear pulse, maintaining the tension that results.

What is always fascinating to observe is the web of musical and personal relationships that develop over such a long career.

The releases below are dated as follows: release (recording).

Sections: As a Leader | As A Sideman

As a Leader

Bobo Stenson Trio
ECM 2223
2012 (2011)

Indicum finds the Bobo Stenson Trio picking up where Cantando left off, but now Fält is fully integrated, adding his own character to the strong voices of Stenson and Jormin. The tune mix is similar to the earlier record with Bill Evans' "Your Story" played as a solo tribute, George Russell's "Event VI" paired down to its essence, much like "Send In The Clouds" from Goodbye and the Norwegian traditional song "Ave Maria" is given a loving, beautiful treatment.

All of Stenson's strengths are on display: his use of space, the careful building of his lines, his singing tone, his wide range of musical tastes and influences as well as his understated intensity combined with a deep musical intelligence. Indicum is not only a follow-up to Cantando, but solidifies everything about Stenson and this trio. See here for a John Kelman's full review.

Bobo Stenson Trio
ECM 2023
2008 (2007)

Cantando must be ranked among Stenson's highest achievements since the monumental double CD Serenity (ECM, 2000). The essence of the art of Stenson (and, of course, his trio) is the mixture of a "classical" attitude where every note counts and at least feels as if it is placed with a thoughtful preparation, an intensity that never strains but rather is light and understated, and a joyful exuberance which runs through everything and continually surprises.

This trio is all about precision. Stenson's piano technique is based on the way each note is surrounded by space, yet is connected, while Jormin has one of the tightest sounds in the business, and a command of technique (particularly harmonics, both plucked and bowed) that is astounding. Fält is essentially replacing Christensen, Paul Motian's appearance on Goodbye (ECM, 2006) notwithstanding, and plays with incisiveness, giving every sound a purpose with youthful vigor, supporting the band while continually pushing it.

Bobo Stenson Trio
ECM 1904
2005 (2004)

Goodbye is the fourth ECM recording by Stenson in a trio and the first with Paul Motian in the drum chair. To even maintain much less supercede the quality and intensity of the music on Serenity would be quite a task. The music of Goodbye seems a bit more approachable, less "abstract" and more melodic than that of Serentiy without sacrificing any of the intensity of the trio.

Starting the disc with "Send In The Clowns" feels like a statement of purpose, as if Stenson is saying, "listen to the core of the tune: this is my art." The very essence of this well known tune, melodically, harmonically as well as emotionally is distilled out, producing its very nectar. "Race Face," which ends the disc is obviously a Stenson favorite, since he recorded it on Dona Nostra (1993) and revisits it here. Its mood is decidedly different, more American jazz if you will, but given the Stenson treatment, and the group really takes off and drives intensely forward, with much more of feel of the blues, but nothing overt.

The title tune is by the fairly obscure composer/arranger Gordon Jenkins, which was used by Benny Goodman to close his shows, and comes as close to a standard ballad as anything else Stenson has recorded, while once again, the emotional and music kernel of the piece is exposed and brought to the surface. Stenson and Jormin demonstrate they know each other, and Motian slips effortlessly and forcefully into the roll that Christensen filled for so long. This is true trio music where the whole is definitely more than the sum of the parts, which nevertheless remain distinct.

Bobo Stenson Trio

ECM 1740/41
2000 (1999)

Containing more than ninety minutes of music on two discs, Serenity is simply astounding. Stenson's trio has created a lake that is so deep and wide, yet crystal clear, it would take weeks to fully explore. The overall mood is quite subdued yet tension and intensity are always lurking beneath the surface, as with Jormin's "T" and immediately followed by four short, abstract, free "Prints," which start Disc 1.

Instead of choosing an Ornette Coleman tune, this time Stenson picks Wayne Shorter's "Swee Pea" (from Super Nova), which in its original form is an eerie wisp of a tune, but here is introduced by faint percussive effects by Christensen leading to Jormin's arco playing that almost voices harmonics on every note, echoing Shorter's mournful soprano. The bass vamp that is set up threatens to take off, but never does, and Stenson's playing just barely adds to the melody.

On Disc 2, Silvio Rodriguez is revisited by "El Mayor" (the first time was "Oleo de mujer con sombrero" from War Orphans). The core of the disc could arguable be said to be "Die Nachtigal" by Alban Berg, "Rimbaud Gedicht" by Hanns Eisler and the title tune, "Serenity" by Charles Ives. The Berg line is made to almost feel like a waltz as it drifts in and out of a subtle triple meter and becomes almost a song; one can almost see Berg smiling, saying, "Yes, that is how my music should be played."

Eisler, who is also represented on Disc 1, has his tune supported by an intense Christensen on snare and cymbals as Stenson and Jormin let it sing out. Ives is hardly the stuff of what is normally considered jazz material, but here is used as grist for the Stenson/Jormin/Christensen mill with each player contributing to an ethereal sound, each taking the lead at different times. Serenity is to be sipped slowly and thoughtfully.

Bobo Stenson
:rarum VIII

ECM 8008
2002 (1971-99)

The :rarum series enables an ECM artist himself to choose tracks from his whole career and present them as a sampler. If you have never heard Bobo Stenson on ECM, this is a very good way to hear his work over an almost thirty year period. Selections are from Serenity (3), Dansere (1), Dona Nostra (2), War Orphans (1), The Call [currently unavailable in the U.S.] (1), Leosia (1), Witchi-Tai-To (1), Reflections (1), Underwear [as of now, out of print] (1) and All My Relations (1). See the more detailed descriptions to get an idea of the music created by this remarkable artist.

Bobo Stenson Trio
War Orphans

ECM 1604
1998 (1997)

Beginning with the beautiful Silvio Rodriguez tune "Oleo de mujer con sombrero," Stenson almost immediately hits an exposed altered note that dramatically bends the harmony. His trademark way of emphasizing certain notes by dynamics and by the "ghost" notes is on display for everyone to hear in the unaccompanied introduction.

Jormin's compositions are represented by "Natt," "Eleventh of January" and "Sediment," and his melodic bass playing style, huge sound and use of vamps and ostinati give structure to the slowly unwinding melodies. Stenson's predilection for the tunes of Ornette Coleman shows with "All My Life" and the title tune, which could be seen as a summary of everything Stenson. The quiet intensity, the sense of large space being created by implying rather than stating, Jormin's arco playing that almost voices harmonics around Stenson's line all add up to deep feelings being expressed.

Not a prolific composer, Stenson's "Bengali Blue" seems built out of nothing at first except Jormin's deep bass and Christensen's light yet driven drumming. War Orphans is music that is like pure dark chocolate which melts slowly in your mouth into a rich complexity of flavors.

Bobo Stenson Trio

ECM 1516
1996 (1993)

The first record with the trio that will continue with War Orphans, Serenity and Goodbye, Reflections starts off with "The Enlightener" which sounds almost like a "standard" tune at first, but, with the extremely long section on a pedal point, goes off in an entirely unexpected direction.

George Gershwin's "My Man Is Gone Now" is taken apart and the very essence of the beautiful tune is laid bare, much in the manner of "Send in the Clowns" on Goodbye. There are three other tunes by Stenson including "12 Tones Old," which is either based on a 12-tone row or explicitly visits all twelve keys, while nevertheless feeling tonally centered and is, of course, musical and not an exercise. The core line is explicated more clearly in Plunge.

Jormin contributes the enigmatically entitled "Not" and "Q," where the gift of his huge sound, rhythmic clarity and melodic inventiveness is displayed. Also clearly shown here is the near ESP that is present between Stenson and Jormin. "Mindatyr," the longest track by far, starts with a vaguely South Asian feel as Jormin plays arco for the long introduction, until a bass pattern signals the tune proper as the band gradually heats up around a solid rhythm, only to eventually fall back and fade away.

Bobo Stenson Trio
Very Early

Dragon 304
1997 (1986)

While Anders Jormin is in this trio as he is in the later work, the music here, at least in the first half, feels entirely different than its closest relative Reflections, recorded seven years later. This is a more standard affair, with straightforward rhythms provided by Carlsson, and many times a walking bass line by Jormin. Even the "arrangements" of the tunes in the first half are standard: piano, bass, piano. The familiar Stenson style of the later years is, however, audible: the individual note dynamics, the spaces between phrases, the building of a solo.

The second half of the disc (especially from "Pavane" onward), however, sounds much more like what is commonplace later, including Stenson's predilection for the tunes of Ornette Coleman ("Ramblin'"). In his later work, the atmosphere becomes more diffuse, but perhaps gains in intensity, with the biggest difference being that between the drumming of Carlsson here and Christensen/Motian later.

As A Sideman

Stenson's sideman work can easily be grouped by leader: Garbarek (Sart, Dansere, Witchi-Tai-To), Stanko (Leosia, Litania, Matka Johanna), Lloyd (Canto, Notes From Big Sur, Fish Out Of Water, All My Relations), the smaller groups: Jormin (Eight Pieces, Nordic Light), Brostrom ( Celestial Nights, Dark Light), Milder (Sister Majs Blouse, Epilogue), Danielsson (Poems, Live At Visiones), Vaering (When I Close My Eyes, In So Many Words) and then the others. As one becomes more familiar with the breadth of his work, Stenson's interlocking musical relationships become more apparent.

François Carrier
Entrance 3

Ayler 106
2011 (2002)

François Carrier, arguably one of the world's premier free improvisers, brought his then working trio, along with Stenson, to the 2002 Vancouver Jazz Festival after having toured as a quartet for his All' Alba (Justin Time) release.

This a very hot set, full of rhythm drive and compelling interplay, with the tunes taken from All' Alba. Stenson fits right in and, as always adds his personal touch (like quoting "Girl From Ipanema"!), in a set that has clear echoes of the great John Coltrane 1960s quartet. Exceptional musicianship and and a high level of excitement marks this outing.

Plunge with Bobo Stenson

Kopasetic 007
2005 (2005)

The group Plunge has a previous record of the same kind of material recorded without Stenson. In this second recording, it is clear that Stenson is not the leader, but a guest. The collaboration between Plunge and Bobo began in the fall of 2002 when they invited him to join them for a few concerts in Sweden. These were very successful and an ongoing relationship had begun. Stenson is still a guest with the trio, and Plunge is also active on it's own. Since that first tour as a quartet, they have done several tours of Sweden together and one of the concerts was also broadcasted by the Swedish Radio. Plunge and Stenson are planning a few concerts together in March 2006.

However, Stenson meshes so completely with their esthetic that he sounds like he has been playing and thinking with them for a long time. All the tracks except #5 ("12 Tones Old" by Stenson), #6 ("Three Characters" by Andersen/Stenson/Nilsson) #9 ("Castor" by Hjorth) and #14 ("Ethos Gives Posture" by Andersson) are marked as composed by all four players, which means they were improvised. The group can remind one of Lars Danielsson's quartet on Poems, especially when Andersson plays soprano and sounds a bit like Dave Liebman, and anyone familiar with the very fine Vertigo Quartet release this year will hear hints of them in "Lingua Franca."

This piece, which starts the record, has the strongest sense of pulse among the improvised pieces, and finds Stenson in his hot mode. The tracks composed by the band members sound decidedly different than the freer tracks. There is more structure, both melodically and harmonically, and thus they are easier to immediately grasp. The improvised pieces, however, all have a forward drive produced by the whole band that carries the day and entices the listener, creating marvelous music.

Lennart Aberg
Seven Pieces
Phono Suecia 118
2000 (1999-2000)

As the title states, this disc contains seven compositions by Lennart Aberg, performed by different size groups, ranging from what is essentially a big band ("Spiraltrappan," "4," "Skalovningar" and "Chris-Chros") to a sextet ("The Don" and "Ornette Or Not") to a quartet ("Lena's Tune"). Stenson appears on all tracks, as does Palle Danielsson (see Sister Majs Blouse, Epilogue, Litania Fish Out Of Water, Dansere and Witchi-Tai-To to note the long playing relationship with Stenson).

Aberg has an immediately recognizable style on his reeds, but he generally lays back here and lets his compositions peak. "SpiralTrappan," which starts the disc, features a very angular solo by Stenson, and one would never know there are rapidly changing meters. The fast, catchy opening section leads to a rubato section with just Aberg and Stenson, that sounds free but is not, and which leads back to a kind of a recap.

The stylistic change within a piece is echoed between pieces, and they vary quite a lot. "Lena's Tune," with just the quartet, could not be more different, yet it is also quite composed but sounds quite free. Lennart remarks about the complicated harmonies and unusual form, which everyone learned to navigate with just one rehearsal, and how the energy created by the quartet was as big in its own way as the big band. "Ornette Or Not" is an Ornette-esque romp for the sextet that is much fun to listen to with its controlled anarchy, while "4" for the big band is built on a circle of fifths from F7 to Ab7, and is not a blues, but just oozes that blues feeling.

Trine-Lise Vaering
In So Many Words

Stunt 19807
1998 (1997-1998)

Vaering is a true poet/singer. Her words speak of her personal experiences, yet touch on universal truths and common feelings. While the poems are beautiful to read, her music truly enhances their effect. Most of the music is written by Vaering, and the tunes have complex structures, needing to follow the words, very much like the earlier When I Close My Eyes.

Her voice is crystal clear and she sings mostly without vibrato and Vaering pulls you in as she exposes herself through song. Stenson, once again, perfectly adapts himself to the music at hand, as he plays on all but two tunes. Standout tracks, for the efforts of both Vaering and Stenson include The Blues, a surprise My Favourite Things, Everywhere I Go (piano and strings) and the gorgeous torch song Detour Ahead. Vaering's two albums with Stenson highlight both her talent and the craft of tunesmanship. Enter Vaering's world of song and be rewarded with some terrific jazz as well.

Joakim Milder/Bobo Stenson/Palle Danielsson/Fredrik Noren
Epilogue -The Music of Borje Fredriksson

Mirrors 007
1998 (1997-1998)

This is the second installment of Joakim Milder's project to honor the music and memory of Borje Fredriksson, the first being Sister Majs Blouse. Fredriksson was considered one of the brightest and best performer/composers in the Scandinavian jazz scene, but he was easily hurt and committed suicide in 1968 at age 31.

In 1963, at age eighteen, Stenson started his career with Fredriksson. He considers him his mentor, receiving Fredriksson's sheet music after his death. Milder recounts that he was given Fredriksson's only album, "Intervall" when quite young and how it changed his musical outlook and life. Palle Danielsson and Fredrik Noren made up Fredriksson's last rhythm section, so these four men are all uniquely qualified to play this music. This disc includes many previously unrecorded works.

Stylistically wide-ranging, Epilogue includes tunes as different as the extended driving bop piece "Intervall" to the smokey ballad "Master" to the freely expressive "Amandas villa," with tunes like "Blues 55" and "Back Beat Blues" in between. The treat of the album is the three quite different versions of "Epilogue" which is a sketch.

"Epilogue I" opens with exposed, very open piano against deep bass and soft cymbals until Milder comes in with the haunting theme, and time stops. All is shimmering, diaphonous beauty. "Epilogue II" opens with solo bass using a mixture of regular notes and harmonics. The saxophone enters with the theme, sparsely accompanied by Stenson who gradually increases the density of notes as the lamenting tune unfolds in the horn. Milder and Stenson begin to play against each other with counterpoint from Danielsson as again time stops and deep emotions are exposed. The last version, "Epilogue III," which ends the disc, starts in a way similar to "Epilogue II," but Milder comes in quickly and the theme gets played in unison with the piano, which makes it even eerier. This extraordinary music could have been written at any time, not just in the sixties.

Rune Carlsson
Seven Footprints To Heaven
Arietta 15
1997 (1997)

Carlsson sings, and very well at that, with a light voice that is under control. An album of romantic songs, the title comes from mixing Miles Davis' "Seven Steps To Heaven" and Wayne Shorter's "Footprints," both of which are included. Stenson plays on the last three tracks, and his touch and harmonic sense are immediately noticeable. Carlsson notes paradoxically that while he knows Stenson well, he always surprises him with a new touch. As an aside, the lyrics to "Footprints" include a recited well-known story about the narrator and God walking on the beach.

Tomasz Stanko Septet
Litania -Music of Krzysztof Komeda

ECM 1636
1997 (1997)

Quoting Stanko from the liner notes: "I play regularly with Bobo Stenson, and he and I both knew he'd play Komeda's tunes even better than he plays mine. I gave Bobo all the archive recordings but what he plays is all his. Often he doesn't even use Komeda's chords." (emphasis mine). The notes also give an idea of the long relationships that exists between the players. Bernt Rosengren was with Komeda before Stanko himself. Christensen goes back with Stenson to the 70s in Garbarek's groups, and Milder and Stenson both count Borje Fredriksson a major influence.

"Svantetic" clearly shows Komeda's compositional method of building from small cells of notes, and "Night-time, Daytime Requiem" (for John Coltrane) shows how Komeda can maintain listener interest within his larger (20 minute) forms. Komeda managed to mix the symphonic with jazz, being free and controlled simultaneously. Since Stanko and Rosengren were with Komeda, and since everyone else has a close relationship, these recordings give a good idea of what the originals sound like.

Tomasz Stanko

ECM 1603
1997 (1997)

Leosia is one of the most overlty beautiful and haunting records in the ECM catalogue, and to many represent Tomasz Stanko's high point of creation thus far. Stenson is directly involved with the total sound of the album, and has a direct musical connection with the leader.

From the opening chords of "Morning Heavy Song" to the closing arpeggios of the title song, Stenson's subtle touch, chordal voicings and emotional intensity combine with Stanko's mournful trumpet to create music of loss and hope. He and Jormin, his long time playing partner seem to share the same mind and their slow burn complements Stanko and urges him on.

This album catches Stanko in between his earlier very free period where phrases seem to go everywhere and nowhere simultaneously and his current work which, while losing none of its intensity, has a much more easily grasped structure.

Charles Lloyd

ECM 1635
1997 (1996)

Stenson's relationship with Charles Lloyd at ECM lasted through five albums, of which Canto is the last. In terms of other musical relationships, Anders Jormin and Palle Danilesson on bass and Jon Christensen on drums are to be found during this period. One might think that someone like Stenson, with his Scandinavian background, might not mesh with Lloyd who has an extremely personal style and a California history. However, Lloyd's mystical side, and its expression through music binds the performers together.

"Tales of Rumi," which is sixteen plus minutes long and starts of the record, is introduced by Stenson plucking and tapping the piano strings, then intimating the melody as the tension and intensity increases over the static harmony until Lloyd enters. Always very inventive, Lloyd speaks with his saxophone, staying away from the pulse for long periods of time, only to drop right on it at a moment's notice. Stenson fits right in, taking a dramatic solo in the second half as the music peaks.

Lloyd also has some trademark things that he repeatedly does, such as playing repeated notes with different fingerings and reaching notes through a sliding cry that vocalizes every line he plays. Lloyd's compositions tend to spin out from a diffuse structure, so the listener must just let it wash over her as his music, which does have time, melody and harmony just refuses to settle down, and which can be quite rewarding and healing for those able to do so.

Lars Danielsson
Live at Visiones

Dragon 309
1997 (1996)

Ostensibly led by Lars Danielsson, this group feels more like a cooperative, although Liebman, playing soprano saxophone, sounds like the performance leader. With only five tracks taking up an hour, there is much time to stretch out, and the band plays very hot, especially "Little Peanut" where everyone, including Stenson really takes off. This is hot Stenson, and a live version a band represented by the studio recording of Poems.

The music itself is kind of post-Coltrane modal with a strong beat provided by a bass vamp from Danielsson or from Christensen's drumming. Liebman plays quite freely over the bubbling backdrop, and Stenson's comping shows he is always listening, many times echoing Liebman. A fine album that has that "I wish I had been there" feeling in capturing a wonderful set.

Trine-Lise Vaering
When I Close My Eyes
Stunt 19602
1996 (1995)

Trine-Lise Vaering has one of those effortless voices with little vibrato that just flows from her to the listener. The effect is the direct communication of her lyrics that carry deep emotion with profundity and sincerity. She projects vulnerability both through her voice and her words, and the total effect can be memsmerizing.

Vaering wrote the music to most her lyrics, but even that written by Fredrick Lundin, who plays saxophones and flutes on a number of tracks, ends up being of a piece because the strength of the lyric's structure. The most normally structured lyric is "Portraying a Heart," which only highlights the difference of the other tracks.

Stenson plays on all tracks except "We Shan't Be Told," and always adds to the performance. The music is not complex harmonically, just structurally, with many odd length phrases. "From the Book of Love" is a duet between Vaerig and Stenson that straddles art and jazz song. His poetic style, being exposed, is plain to hear. Instrumentally, the most exciting track is "Angels in the Crowd" which has but one verse sung in rubato rhythm as an introduction, after which the piano quartet eventually takes off.

Rolf Ericson/Lennart Aberg
Ellington and Strayhorn

Sittel 9223
1995 (1995)

Stenson plays the blues, and for the most part avoids the more "pastel" kind of harmonies, although the Stensonian touch and line building are still there. As usual, what he does is totally appropriate to the music at hand, and his solos show a deep love of these wonderful composers. Quite different and refreshing, the tunes, both those that are well known and those lesser known, are given a deep swing that starts with Strayhorn's "The Intimacy of the Blues" and does not let up.

Tomasz Stanko Quartet
Matka Johanna

ECM 1544
1995 (1994)

This is some of the most abstract music to come from Stanko. Each track is a musical "image" created from scenes of the movie Matka Johanna from the Angels by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, to whom the album is dedicated. The music ranges from mostly percussion sounds to reworkings of tunes like "Maldoror's War Song," first heard on Bosonossa, to "Tales for a Girl, 12," which finds Stanko playing a line that makes sense without ever repeating itself. Floating, ethereal and evocative, this music is full of beautiful trumpet lines echoed by the individual band members as well as solo passages by Stenson, Jormin and Oxley.

Many tracks have no beginning or end, no reference or obvious meaning. As such, Matka Johanna can be called music of free association, as well as if not free, then very loose jazz. Without the movie to hold things together, it is easy to get lost in the individual tracks, which is not unpleasant to be sure.

The title track, almost eleven minutes long, and in the center if the disc, starts with dark, brooding bass and piano until Stanko plays one of his lines that entwine and seduce the listener without a discernable structure, yet which, nevertheless, moves forward. Superb, if unsettling music.

Charles Lloyd
All My Relations

ECM 1557
1995 (1994)

Dedicated to the memory of Swami Ritajananda, All My Relations includes a very touching and funny mini-biography from Lloyd and he wants to sing to the memory of every musician who passed through his hometown, stayed in his house, taught him something, or just said the right thing at the right time to push him in the right direction. And sing he does, with seeming inexhaustible invention, constantly driven by Billy Hart who is much more forceful than on Canto .

Stenson and Jormin should not be forgotten, however, since as rhythm section they play as one. Stenson's solos on "Piercing the Veil" is full of energy and unpredictable, and one can hear someone vocalizing to the music. An eerie flute in its lowest register against a simple vamp starts "Little Piece," and anyone claiming to not like flute in jazz should listen to this very cool playing.

"Thelonious Theonlyus" is full smiles and Stenson outdoes himself with sly chromaticism and rhythm. The playing of the piano strings themselves is introduced in "Hymne to the Mother," and revisited in "Tales of Rumi" on Canto, and here Lloyd raises a prayer to all Mothers, both of the earth and the body.

Fully half of the album is taken up by "Cape to Cairo Suite," "Evanstide, Where Lotus Bloom" and "All My Relations." Each has much wonderful playing from everyone, including a fine solo by Stenson in "Evanstide," but they feel like they could have been tightened up (perhaps especially in "All My Relations," which has a very long solo introduction by Lloyd) and be just as effective.

Hakan Brostrom
Celestial Nights

Dragon 257
1994 (1994)

Celestial Nights feels much more introverted than Dark Light. The mood here is more thoughtful for the most part. Even "Possibilities," the most driving tune has a much lighter feel, although Kjellberg is blistering with his cymbals. "Dance Of The Leaves" evokes images of a happy dance out in the warm sun. "Rememberance," the longest track by far, has a lightly hopping melody on which Stenson plays a wonderful solo, but with many more chordal sections than usual, perhaps to add more drive.

The title tune itself, which Brostrom states is a group improvisation, feels a bit unfocused and rudderless. Nevertheless, between this release and Dark Light one can get a good feel for this very inventive musician who communicates his feelings quite directly through his music.

Don Cherry
Dona Nostra

ECM 1448
1994 (1993)

Dona Nostra is Cherry's last recording; he died of liver cancer in 1995. The overall mood is introduced by Stenson in his chordal playing of the beautiful and simple theme of "In Memoriam," written by Lennart Aberg which sounds a bit like "Celina" from Matka Johanna. Stenson expands on Aberg with his flowing, twisting lines and trademark wide dynamic range. In the last third of the track Stenson plays around, over and under Aberg's mournful lines, and Cherry does not appear.

"Fort Cherry," "Arrows," "Vienna" and "Ahayu-Da" are group improvisations that succeed to various degrees, with the first and the last the most engaging. "M'Bizo" has a haunting theme initially played by Cherry and Aberg in unison. Stenson seems to choose the perfect notes throughout and gives the track its shape. The driving rhythm and dancing vamp "Race Face" by Ornette Coleman is picked up again by Stenson on Goodbye. Aberg takes off and is answered in every way by Stenson. Cherry is again mostly absent, but he does play, supported by percussion and bass throughout the mysterious "Prayer." Another tune by Ornette Coleman, "What Reason Could I Give," is the shortest track, played as a duet by Cherry and Stenson and brings tears. Wonderful music, but surprisingly not much Don Cherry.

Joakim Milder/Bobo Stenson/Palle Danielsson/Fredrik Noren
Sister Majs Blouse -The Music of Borje Fredriksson

Mirrors 002
1993 (1993)

Sister Majs Blouse is the first of two releases by this quartet of players deeply affected by Frediksson. Go to Epilogue for their intertwined histories. The title tune refers to a nurse who was very important to Frediksson during his last days, and is a mournful blues on which Stenson plays a few choruses after Milder plays some of the saddest jazz blues you ever heard. Together, the tunes span a range of styles that show Freriksson's broad music taste.

From "Mahatma" that evokes "Night in Tunisia" until it veers away to the absolutely gorgeous "Ballad for Laila," and on to the folk music influenced "Brollopsvals," Fredriksson's music is timeless and can easily fit into today's esthetic. One of the most highly regarded young musicians of his time, he has influenced many, including this quartet, down to the present day.

Charles Lloyd
Notes From Big Sur

ECM 1465
1992 (1991)

Lloyd has a slightly softer tone than elsewhere on "Requiem" and Stenson answers his opening plaintive solo his own very solidly built solo that takes the middle third of the eight-minute track. Lloyd's usual techniques are on display, and his way of sounding as if he is wandering while negotiating the harmony is immediately noticeable. "Sister" has a similar mood and structure, but the track is lifted by Stenson who is showing how well he adapts himself to the needs of the music at hand.

The two part "Pilgrimage to the Mountain" (part 1 is "Persevere" and part 2 is "Surrender") is split between track three and track eight. Jormin introduces the tune with one of his trademark harmonic solos, and when Lloyd comes in the sky opens up and we see the mountain in the distance. The music has extreme spiritual overtones, linking the earth with the sky, and Stenson immeasurably helps create the mood. "Surrender" starts with the same eerie playing of Jormin who continues under Lloyd's entrance while Stenson helps create the sense of floating in the open air.

In between these two tone poems are the lighter "Sam Song," a haunting "Takur" in which Jormin again does his beautiful harmonics. "Monk in Paris" on which Lloyd again uses a softer, more playful tone even when he is running fast arpeggios, finds Stenson playing another perfect solo andd finally "When Miss Jessye Sings" which has an opening motive that very strongly resembles Coltrane, but which quickly moves beyond it, with more concentrated Stenson.

Notes From Big Sur is a very introspective album, even by Lloyd's standards, but contains some of Stenson's finest playing with Lloyd.

Lars Danielsson

Dragon 209
1991 (1991)

This is the studio version of the band in Live at Visiones and which contains three of the five tracks on that record. The emphasis in the playing is, of course, different between live where total spontaneity and surprise is optimal, and studio, where the same thing is desired, but more controlled with an eye towards the recording.

Liebman is quite wonderful, displaying a freedom with a structure that is enthralling. He almost splits the composing duties with Danielsson, and the two men create music for the band rather than individual compositions played by the band. The quartet really has four soloists, with Liebman being the only, one, naturally, dropping out when not playing. The remaining trio blends their individuality to become a unit, with each arising to the surface. Stenson is a supremely confident accompanist, either when comping or playing filling phrases. In, "Suite" he gets the most time to solo, and makes the most of it, playing with drive and fire.

Hakan Brostrom
Dark Light

Dragon 190
1991 (1990)

Hakan Brostrom plays soprano and tenor saxophone (alto and tenor on Celestial Nights ) and is quite lithe on them all, but especially the higher two. He writes well-crafted melodies that provide able ground for not only his always inventive solos, but for the imagination of his band. While remaining solidly mainstream, the angular melodies that take surprising turns and which are supported by different and unpredictable harmony provide a deep listening experience.

Stenson again shows his adaptability by playing within the vibe set up by Brostrom and, while adding his own musical thoughts to the mix, does not go farther than asked while pushing the music forward. Kjellberg (who also plays on Dona Nostra) and Spering provide a supple and bubbling underpinning, seeming to keep the group floating in air. Schultz seems to make his first appearance (on acoustic guitar) in the longest track, "Who's Coming" (written while Brostrom and his wife were expecting their first child), but later adds some burning electric, distorted guitar sounds in "On The Edge." A delightful record all around.

Charles Lloyd
Fish Out Of Water

ECM 1398
1990 (1989)

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