Dragon Records continues its quasi-chronological survey of music by the great Swedish baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin with Volume 8, scanning the years 1953-55. (Volume 2, Modern Sounds,
is devoted entirely to recordings made in 1953, while Volumes 7 and 3 review the years 1951-53 and 1954-55, respectively.) Unlike previous volumes, which have included guest appearances by such well-known American jazz artists as Chet Baker, Zoot Sims, Lee Konitz, James Moody and Stan Getz along with Swedish stars Arne Domnérus, Rolf Ericson, Åke Persson, Putte Wickman, Bengt Hallberg, Alice Babs and others, this one's pure Gullin, leading a quartet or quintet through its paces in programs comprised essentially of his original compositions.
Any lingering doubts that Gullin (1928-76) was a giant among baritone saxophonists should be quickly and permanently erased by these superlative sessions, which include one of his best-known compositions, "Danny's Dream, bolstered by eight others (there are three takes of "Manchester Fog, two of "Lars Meets Jeff ), the standard "I Fall in Love Too Easily and guitarist Georg Riedel's "Stocks and Bonds and "A la Carte. The album encompasses three studio dates, one each from 1953, '54 and '55, on all of which Gullin, Riedel and bassist Rolf Berg form the nucleus. Tenor saxophonist Carl-Henrik Norin and drummer Alan Dawson augment the trio on the earliest session (tracks 1-4), drummer Robert Edman on the second (tracks 5-8), drummer Bo Stoor on the last (tracks 9-15).
Gullin, an early admirer of American baritone legend Gerry Mulligan, followed Jeru's lead for a short while before developing a softer, more lyrical style that was very much in evidence by the time these recordings were made. His sound is quite distinctive, his improvisational blueprint very much his own, his sense of rhythm and dynamics in a class by itself (tenor Zoot Sims is the most comparable prototype who comes to mind). Gullin was at his peak in the mid-'50s, relatively free from the drug habit that would later destroy his career and end his life at age 46.
Adding to his stature as one of the world's most important saxophonists, Gullin was an underrated composer whose irresistible themes have stood the test of time. They are wonderfully played here, with Lars at his ardent best and Riedel's understated guitar deftly chaperoning the congenial rhythm sections. The monaural sound is excellent for its time, while the 70:09 playing time speaks for itself.
If you've not heard Lars Gullin (I'm always surprised by how many haven't), it's time to correct the oversight; otherwise, you'll have deprived yourself of the pleasure of listening to a truly original voice who was, in this reviewer's opinion, one of the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived. And if you have heard Lars Gullin, you'll no doubt want to check this out.
Lars Gullin: baritone sax (1-11), piano (12-15); Carl-Henrik Norin: tenor sax (1-3); Rolf Berg:
guitar; Georg Riedel: bass; Alan Dawson: drums (1-4); Robert Edman: drums (5-8); Bo Stoor: