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Bobo Stenson: A Discography

Budd Kopman By

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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)
Tracks

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
Plunge with Bobo Stenson

Kopasetic 007
2005 (2005)
Tracks

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)
Tracks

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)
Tracks

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)
Tracks

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)
Tracks

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)
Tracks

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
Leosia

ECM 1603
1997 (1997)
Tracks

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
Canto

ECM 1635
1997 (1996)
Tracks

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.

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