I'm always surprisedalthough I suppose I shouldn't beby the number of jazz fans I encounter, musicians among them, who've never heard of Lars Gullin, one of the greatest (my opinion) baritone saxophonists who ever lived. The reason, I presume, is that Gullin (1928-1976) was Swedish, and although he performed with such outstanding American players as Zoot Sims, Lee Konitz, Clifford Brown, James Moody, Chet Baker and others, he rarely left his native country and never visited the US.
Even so, Gullin was an awesome talent, clearly in a class with Mulligan, Chaloff, Cecil Payne and more recent masters such as Pepper Adams, Nick Brignola, Jack Nimitz, Gary Smulyan and any others you'd care to name. In The All Music Guide to Jazz, Vol. 2, Scott Yanow writes that Gullin "did not live up to his enormous potential. Yes, he did, as anyone who has listened closely to his recordings would readily acknowledge.
Complementing his prowess as a player, Gullin was a gifted composer too, as is clearly evident on this welcome tribute by Swedish guitarist Andreas Pettersson and his quartet, on which almost everything was written by Gullin (Pettersson appended a bit of the folk song "Gamble Vau to one of Gullin's most well-known tunes, "Danny's Dream ). Gullin's ear for a charming melody is as conspicuous in his writing as it was in his playing. But once past the melodies, what remains is essentially a blowing session in which Pettersson shows excellent chops and a prolific imagination.
I was thinking as I listened that perhaps this might have worked even better as a solo guitar album, as Pettersson's teammates, albeit capable, are at times heavy-handed, inadvertently overshadowing his best efforts. This is especially true on the more spirited numbers ("Pals, "Decent Eyes, "Be Careful"), wherein pianist Daniel Karlson and drummer Joakim Ekberg come through loud and clear, often at the expense of Pettersson's more temperate guitar. It's not enough to dampen one's pleasure, but it can be distracting.
Be that as it may, "Careful is nevertheless one of the highlights, with everyone swinging hard behind forceful solos by all hands. The boppish "Lars Meets Jeff, on which the rhythm section shows admirable restraint and everyone plays enthusiastically, is another pinnacle, and perhaps should have been placed first, before "Pals. But the whys and wherefores remain unclear, as the liner notes (and everything else) are in Swedish.
When all is said and done, Gullin on Guitar is a warm and sensitive homage with respectable playing time and crystal-clear sound. But if you'd like to hear something that'll really blow your mind, look around for a recording or two by the incomparable Lars Gullin himself (Dragon Records would be an excellent place to start).
Visit Andreas Pettersson and Lars Gullin on the web.