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Bernt Rosengren: I'm Flying

Chris Mosey By

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Once one of the young lions of the Swedish modern jazz movement, saxophonist Bernt Rosengren is now, at the age of 73, one of its elder statesmen. With I'm Flying, which he and his fellow musicians financed themselves, he has won—for the fifth time—Sweden's annual Golden Record (Gyllene Skivan) award. Rosengren, a shy, diffident man who shuns publicity, remains by and large unknown outside the Nordic Area; with his tiny record company and its Swedish distributor, Plugged Music, yet to secure a deal in the United States, it's likely to stay that way.

Rosengren has always gone his own way. Back in the 1950s, when Swedish jazz men were jumping on the Cool/West Coast bandwagon, he opted instead for hard bop. He has done all manner of things since, including leading a big band, but in recent years he's returned to his roots. So hard bop is what this album is all about. Rosengren says, "It's what I like best and it gets easier and easier to play as the years go by."

It's basically a blowing session, with no fancy arrangements. The up-tempo title number, one of seven Rosengren originals, is reminiscent of some of Benny Golson's repertoire. Rosengren kicks it off and solos extensively; his big—if sometimes rather harsh—tone totally dominating the mix.

Pianist Stefan Gustafson and bassist Hans Backenroth are both highly accomplished players, but a feeling persists that they are sometimes overwhelmed by Rosengren and afraid to really dig in; only on Rosengren's "Ever Blue" does the pianist show his true colors, with a solo that's jam-packed with ideas. Backenroth is less shy. His ensemble playing in particular is extremely sure-footed, particularly on "The Count," which he brings to a masterly conclusion. On the other hand, drummer Bengt Stark's work, particularly with sticks on the quieter passages, is a trifle erratic. He wisely keeps soloing to a minimum.

The balladic "Celius Mood" is the best of the originals and, at more than eight minutes, the album's longest track. The leader is in fine, sensitive form, and there's some very nice bluesy piano from Gustafson plus an excellent, coherent bass solo from Backenroth.

The five standards are less successful. Rosengren approaches "The Best Thing For You" in almost contemptuous fashion, giving the impression that he can't wait to get past the melody so he can get on with his own thing. His treatment of Gene De Paul's "Star Eyes" is similarly perfunctory. By contrast, on Hoagy Carmichael's "Two Sleepy People," he is far less uptight, occasionally coming on like a latter day Ben Webster.

Nevertheless, all in all, I'm Flying is a worthy Golden Record.

Track Listing: I'm Flying; Delilah; Celius Mood; Blues Waltz; The Count; Ever Blue; Where or When; The Best Thing for You; Star Eyes; Autumn; Two Sleepy People; Hip Walk.

Personnel: Bernt Rosengren: tenor sax; Stefan Gustafson: piano; Hans Backenroth: bass; Bengt Stark: drums.

Title: I'm Flying | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: pb7

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