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Daniel Karlsson Trio: Das Taxibat

Ian Patterson By

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When not driving a taxi boat around Stockholm's archipelago, pianist Daniel Karlsson is best known as the pianist/organist in drummer Magnus Ostrom's band and the award-winning, Swedish jazz-fusion quintet Oddjob. The latter's chameleon-like shifts have encompassed funk and chill-out, jazz takes on Ennio Morricone's Western themes and, on JAZOO (Headspin Records, 2013), jazz—of a sophisticated kind—for kids. Das Taxiboat, however, marks Karlsson's first outing as a leader since his promising debut Pan Pan (Caprice Records, 2005), though this time he heads a trio. The conception and execution of these ten originals is impressive—the fruit of the trio's half-decade of labor.

The title track reveals the depth of Karlsson's musical make-up with its blend of classical and folkloric influences, colored by occasional blues accents. Karlsson's melodic, flowing solo places him in a lineage that stretches from Keith Jarrett through Brad Mehldau to Esbjorn Svensson. The pianist' strong vamps and innate lyricism, bassist Kristian Lind's ostinatos and arco work and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist's driving rhythms lean more towards Svensson's trio e.s.t. as a frame of reference, particularly on the smoldering "Sergio's Giorgini," which juxtaposes a delicate collective approach with brooding intensity.

Karlsson pays homage to two of Sweden's greatest jazz pianists, Jan Johansson and Bobo Stenson on "Johansson's Temptation" and "Bobo's Temptation," though he resists any temptation to overtly reference their respective styles. The former tune's rhythmic intensity stems chiefly from Karlsson's relentless left-hand ostinato, while his right hand roams up and down the keyboard with giddy freedom. By way of contrast, Rundqvist's gently probing brushwork and Lind's quasi-baroque bass lines underpin Karlsson's contemplative playing on the lovely "Bobo's Temptation"—an album highlight.

Karlsson manipulates the trio dynamics with a deft hand, varying the pace, intensity and layering of instruments with assurance. Low-key keyboard and organ touches vary the sonic texture on the elegant "Cowboy Song," which stems from a wonderfully catchy piano motif. Karlsson's solo organ interlude sounds with cathedral-like grandeur before the trio returns to the original motif. A bass drum and keyboard pulse conjures an Indians-on-the-warpath vibe, underpinned by Lind's deeply resonant arco.

The trio loosens up on "Christney's Bass Lesson," where choppy bass, uninhibited drum improvisation and slightly dissonant piano runs are sandwiched between the grooving intro and outro. Groove also characterizes the catchy "Positiv Man," which fades just as Karlsson gets a little wind in his sails. The slower-paced "Safir"—with Rundqvist on brushes—is a fine example of lyricism trumping virtuosity. Lind's winning bass riff and Rundqvist's lightly skipping rhythms drive "Quickly," allowing Karlsson bags of room to stretch out. The jaunty "Gone Fishing," the longest track, fairly bristles with energy and closes a fine set with collective swagger.

In a market where piano trios abound, the Daniel Karlsson Trio stands out as a trio brimming with ideas. As for Karlsson, whilst he's not afraid to show his influences he certainly isn't defined or confined by them. His riveting playing and compositional flare mark him out as one of the most exciting of contemporary pianists and states his case as a worthy successor to Svensson.

Track Listing: Das Taxibat; Cowboy Song; Johansson’s Temptation; Bobo’s Temptation; Sergio’s Giorgini; Christney’s Bass Lesson; Positiv Man; Safir; Quickly; Gone Fishing.

Personnel: Daniel Karlsson: grand piano, organ; Kristian Lind: double bass; Fredrik Rundqvist: drums.

Title: Das Taxibat | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Brus

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