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Jan Levander / Ann-Sofi Soderqvist / Joakim Milder: Composer's Big Fun

Jack Bowers By

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The first question that arises relative to this new recording from Sweden is this: Does Composer's Big Fun translate into big fun for the listener? For some listeners, perhaps—but not this one. Second question: Is Composer's Big Fun the name of the album, the group, or its mind-set? All of the above, I suppose. What we do know, according to Johan Scherwin, who penned the liner notes, is that Composer's Big Fun is "far from the caricature of a big band weighted down by tradition on remote-controlled maneuvers in Count Basie's well-trodden footsteps. I'll second that. Basie wouldn't have recognized much of this music, even though he would probably have taken it in stride (pun intended).

The merry trio of composers who concocted this fun-filled revelry are Ann-Sofi Söderqvist, Jan Levander and Joakim Milder. Södverqvist wrote four of the album's nine selections, Levander three, Milder two. It's hard to say who is the more fun-loving, as each of their compositions has its side-splitting moments (please excuse me while I remove tongue from cheek). The music is given life by an eighteen-piece ensemble—nineteen if one counts vocalist Marie Bergman who sings (and talks and laughs) on three numbers—and I must say it is quite cleanly performed, even though it does not, for the most part, swing. In fact, there are times when it makes Maria Schneider, Carla Bley, Henry Threadgill, Mathias Rüegg, Jamie Begian, George Gruntz and other modernists appear rather conservative by comparison.

For a more precise description, we turn again to Scherwin: "...here one can find Spanish-tinged dolor in 'Syvende och sist' (When All Is Said and Done), the electric atmosphere in 'Full öppning' (Total Opening), the heavy blues in 'Tidsstämning' (Time Ambience), the freedom in 'Kultur 1' (Culture 1) or the straight melody that focuses all the attention on Sun Axelsson's words in 'Pisagua.' Big bands do not get more varied than this. Varied, yes. Absorbing? That depends, as we noted earlier, on who's listening and what he or she is seeking. For the most part, it left me impassive and unmoved.

One fact is undeniable: When it comes to contemporary big-band music for the 21st Century, the Swedes (or at least these Swedes) are on the cutting edge. Those who are "weighted down by the Basie tradition (as I am) probably won't warm to it, whereas more adventurous listeners may find it both amiable and pleasing.


Track Listing: Syvende Och Sist; Full Oppning; Var

Personnel: Ann-Sofi S

Title: Composer's Big Fun | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Phono Suecia

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