Bobo Stenson: A Discography

Budd Kopman By

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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)

Fish Out Of Water is the first of the Lloyd/Stenson collaborations and the first ECM recording. Lloyd had retired from playing and it was Michel Petrucciani who persuaded him to return to jazz in the early 1980s. The mood is introspective and mysterious and the connection between Lloyd and Coltrane can be very clear at times. Most of the time, however, Lloyd is quite melodic and plaintive with the uncanny ability to spin out a line that seems disconnected from both the harmony and the rhythm, yet which is very logical.

His playing can be entrancing as one follows the line that can stay within a narrow range yet never be boring. Lloyd has quite a few mannerisms that make him recognizable, the primary one being an arpeggio with the middle note fingered two different ways. What has been called the "ECM rhythm section" is quite sympathetic to Lloyd's music and gets very inside his thinking. Stenson's solos invariably maintain the intensity set by Lloyd, yet he remains himself. This record might not be the first one of Lloyd's to listen to, but is a very interesting link when compared to the others.

Anders Jormin
Eight Pieces

Dragon 306
1998 (1988)

Eight Pieces is a "festival suite" (as described by Jormin) originally written for the Gothenberg Jazz Festival in 1987. This octet produces an amazing sound as it realizes the compositions and arrangements of Jormin. "Em Snabba" ("Five Fast"), the opening tune, simply burns as Kleive (drums), Klinghageb (guitar) and Jormin himself set up an unrelenting rhythmic drive over which Wilczewski wails on soprano saxophone. Stenson answers with a typical tight, pithy, twisting and turning solo backed by softer, but still driving drums and bass.

At the other end of the spectrum, "30," a ballad written for Jormin's wife's birthday, uses Eric Satie for inspiration, and features a floating melody played by guitar surrounded by the filligrees of Stenson. In between we find "Em," which Jormin describes as a mood piece, and which features a saxophone solo with almost no notes but rather sounds and almost speech, backed by arpeggiated piano chords and waves of synthesizer.

"N.S." says Jormin, is "a song to which I also wrote lyrics -which Thomas Gustafson sings through his horn." The suite ranges over many other styles as well and proves Jormin to be an eclectic and omnivorous musician at home anywhere in the wide world of jazz.

Anders Jormin
Nordic Light

Dragon 305
2000 (1984)

Nordic Light is an extremely interesting record for anyone with a predilection for Scandinavian jazz. Even if one does not know any of the melodies from the better-known composers (Edvard Grieg, Carl Nielsen) or, for that matter from the unknowns (August Ekstrom, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, Carl Sjoberg), the arrangements by Jormin and the playing, particular by the passionate Gustafson, make for extremely enjoyable jazz from the north lands.

The melodies, which clearly were not written with jazz improvisation in mind, have a slightly more composed feel about them which can be heard during their declamation. During the improvisatory sections, however, the musicians really let go. Stenson plays an extraordinary solo in "Solverigs vuggesang" (from Peer Gynt), perhaps because this music is in his blood.

Gustafson plays a emotive soprano saxophone on "Tonerna," the one work of Sjoberg that has been immortalized, but which has never been given quite the treatment it is given here. All of the tracks bring out heartfelt playing from the whole group, and, as such, provide a window into the Nordic soul.

Jan Garbarek

ECM 1118
1976 (1975)

The first differences one might notice between Dansere and Witchi-Tai-To are that the former is altogether softer while Stenson is much more forceful, with Garbarek still employing that very tight, driving sound. The title tune is fifteen minutes long and has more of a haunting quality than anything on the previous album. Stenson plays marvelously, having seemed to have found his feet in this kind of music. The rest of the tunes that make up the forty minute disc share both a sense of grand space and Garbarek's insistent sound, usually much louder than the rest of the instruments. "Lokk" is the only tune not composed by Garbarek, but it sums up the feel of the record. Empty space, dark blue endless sky, loneliness, a call out to the wilderness, at first unaccompanied, then with sparse murmerings from the band. Stenson plays a rubato solo that could tear your heart apart. Either this clicks with you or not, but, of course, that can be said of all jazz.

Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson Quartet

ECM 1041
1974 (1973)

The stylistic shift from Afric Pepperbird, to Sart, on to Triptykon through Witchi-Tai-To and ending with Dansere (which is Stenson's last album with Garbarek) is from relatively free playing that evokes many visual images and emotions to the sound that is most associated with Garbarek and dubbed the "ECM Sound" which, however has never been really defined. Witchi-Tai-To can be thought of as a hinge album between the two sides of Garbarek. The tunes, except for "Kukka," by Palle Danielsson, are composed by others including Carla Bley, Jim Pepper and Don Cherry. What sets it most apart from its earlier cousins is the appearance of very regular rhythmic patterns and a clear, but many times static, harmony along with tunes of more regular structure. Whatever else can be said about the music, it definitely moves from being on the heady, abstract side over to that which is more overtly and directly emotional.

Specifically, Garbarek plays the enticing melody to "A.I.R" by Carla Bley on soprano sax with his characteristic sound which has a slight burr being forcefully pushed out. The harmony is a simple pair of alternating chords, so Danielsson and Stenson are left trying to find as many ways as possible to vary the accompaniment, and Stenson's solo feels like a meander. The title tune by Jim Pepper starts with a slightly bluesy intro by Stenson and has a very open, almost "big sky" feel, having a harmonic structure which is a circular series of chords that is repeated. Garbarek blows his heart out on the very pretty melody.

Nearly half of the album is taken up by Don Cherry's "Desireless." After an ethereal piano intro with percussion and chimes, Garbarek lays out the melody with his tenor sax that has the same timbre as the earlier soprano. The group is clearly taking its time and each member of the band expands over a static bass vamp.

Terje Rypdal
Terje Rypdal

ECM 1016
1971 (1971)

Rypdal is not merely a guitarist but more of a sound painter who happens to use electric guitar and effects as his tools. The music is built mostly on vamps and is quite static. Stenson is not really audible as a soloist and is in fact replaced in "Electric Fantasy," the fifteen minute and longest track, by Tom Halverson. Clearly music of its time, Terje Rypdal owes much of its vibe to releases like Miles Davis' In A Silent Way. Stenson did not work with Rypdal again, so perhaps this music was not a good fit for him.

Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson/Terje Rypdal/Arild Andersen/Jon Christensen

ECM 1015
1971 (1971)

Sart is Grabarek's second album, and Stenson is essentially an addition to the previous quartet. This early Garbarek is quite different from the more well-known sound of Witchi-Tai-To and Dansere three or fours years hence.

The music is quite abstract in that it aims to evoke emotions through sound shaping rather than tune, and Stenson adds filligrees, arpeggios and dense chords towards that end. In the title tune, Garbarek erupts with one of the most terrifying saxophone howls on record, while Rypdal lets loose with one of his guitar effects solos in "Song of Space." "Lontano," by Rypdal, with its extreme effects shows up again in Rypdal's own Terje Rypdal of the same year.

Stenson plays the most on "Irr" which slowly takes shape after a bass-only intro, then drums are added until Grabarek plays a typically abstract solo on which Stenson picks up the last two notes to start his solo about halfway through the track. Relentlessly pushing forward in front of a fiery Christensen and pulsing Andersen, Stenson makes his statement count.

George Russell
Listen To The Silence
Soul Note 121024
1983 (1971)

This work was commissioned by the Norwegian Cultural Fund for the 1971 Kongsberg Jazz Festival, specifically for the performance in the Kongsberg Church in Kongsberg, Norway, and has been recorded live at the premier on June 26, 1971.

Three choral groups and jazz band perform the four "Events" with some singing and much spoken text, featuring anti-war articles from Newsweek, and some philosophical musings that feel Buddhist, even when talking about Christianity. The band only gets to play at the end of Event III and the first half of Event IV. Stenson is on electric piano and does not solo. An interesting composition that has all of the problems of choral enunciation and audience uderstandability in a big space.

Lars Farnlof
Phono Suecia 117
2001 (1970-73)

Lars Farnlof (1942-1994) suffered from polio contracted in childhood, but nevertheless was a very highly regarded player and composer with tunes recorded by Stan Getz and Bill Evans. His musical education in Los Angeles led him to want to write for larger musical forces but also to find a balance between the composed and the improvised. After a seven year gestation he produced Heureka, a three part symphonic suite for jazz quartet and symphony orchestra, which premiered in Vasteras in 1969.


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