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Does the world really need another Scandinavian group from the Clean Feed stable? Well in the case of Festen, the answer is a resounding yes! Further confounding the by now tired Nordic tone stereotype, and even diverging from the outfits influenced by the 1960s avant-garde, this quartet comprising four young Swedes based in Stockholm, propounds a free jazz thoroughly of the moment, forgoing time and tune on a collectively navigated journey.
All four live on their wits in an exhibition of nervy interplay. Korean-born Swedish-raised pianist Lisa Ullen is perhaps the band's key asset. When she plays things happen. She energizes the ensembles with her emphatic Cecil Taylor inspired commentary and jagged comping. Not that the rest of the group are any slouches. Clarinetist Isak Hedtjärn uses the extremes of his reeds to express himself, barely fingering a legitimate note during the entire 43-minute program.
During the lengthy opening "In The Kitchen," he moves from quavering as if in the grip of unspeakable emotion, to snorting rambunctious bass clarinet by the end. Similarly wide ranging, bassist Elsa Bergman veers from full-toned pizzicato to spidery bowed sibilance in the same cut, while on drums Erik Carlsson rumbles and taps to maintain momentum without recourse to bombast.
It's an egalitarian date in that roles aren't fixed, and placement of sound is governed by close listening rather than any hierarchy. Each track is episodic, subject to sudden change. Spiky exchanges at the outset of "2015 Forever" lead to rampaging piano and skittering clarinet. While Hedtjärn holds a dog whistle sustain, Ullen spins out jazzier lines with a hint of melody. But the most uncompromising moments come on the final "it never gets better than this." where violent crashing piano depth charges contrast with stratospheric clarinet. It's a good way to end an unpredictable but exhilarating session.
Track Listing: In The Kitchen; 2015 Forever; "det blir aldrig bättre än så här"; "it never gets better than this".
Personnel: Isak Hedtjärn: reeds; Lisa Ullén: piano; Elsa Bergman: double bass; Erik Carlsson: drums.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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