Jan Johansson with Georg Riedel: in Hamburg

Bruce Lindsay By

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Scandinavian jazz? It started with the Esbjorn Svensson Trio, didn't it? Well, no. It goes back many years further. As in Hamburg demonstrates emphatically, two early stars of Swedish jazz, pianist Jan Johansson and bassist Georg Riedel, could cut it with the best of the '60s jazz world, as instrumentalists and as composers. This beautiful album, put together with Riedel's cooperation, consists of recordings made by Johansson and Riedel between 1965-68—as a duo and in partnership with various big bands, for the Hamburg-based broadcaster NDR.

Johansson and Riedel's 1963 duo record based on traditional Swedish folk tunes, Jazz på Svenska (Heptagon Records), is still one of the biggest-selling Swedish jazz albums. It includes the original versions of "Visa från Utanmyra," "Emigrantvisa," "Gånglek från Alvdalen," and "Visa från Rättvik," which is given a big band arrangement here. By the mid-'60s Johansson had played in Norman Granz' Jazz At The Philharmonic European concerts. On the evidence of in Hamburg alone, Johansson was a candidate for international fame but he died in an automobile accident in November 1968, at just 37 years old.

The ensemble recordings are punchy and energetic. "Dimma I dag," which features the NDR Studioband, has an edgy, bluesy sound with a solid rhythm from Riedel's bass and builds to a powerful crescendo. The NDR workshop version of Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays" is slinky and sensual. "3,2,1,—go!" is a storming tune. Recorded with the NDR Jazzworkshop in early '64 it perfectly encapsulates its time—with jazz beginning to open up to the new pop scene. The one slight disappointment is an overly-lush version of Eden Ahbez' "Nature Boy," recorded with the NDR Studioband, which is pretty but rather too laidback and unengaging.

Johansson's "Fem" is a great up-tempo big band number, with the NDR Studioband in full swing. The pianist lays down some beefy left-hand chords, and Rune Gustafsson adds a flowing, warm, single-note guitar solo. Riedel's "Sommar adjö" is another terrific Studioband tune, with a delightfully sparse arrangement and an uplifting riff that sounds especially effective when played by the horn section.

The four duo numbers are Swedish traditional tunes, and without exception they are beautifully lyrical and emotive. Johansson's solo piano opening to "Emigrantvisa" is reminiscent of "St James Infirmary." On "Gånglek från Alvdalen," and "Visa från Utanmyra" Johansson's playing has a more classical sound, contrasting with Riedel's tough, almost funky, acoustic bass. Riedel keeps "Polka fran Jämtland" centered around a simpler, sparser bass line.

The album closes with "Här kommer Pippi Langstrump." Johansson wrote the tune shortly before his death in 1968. This version was recorded in 1973 by Riedel, Gustafsson and reeds player Arne Domnerus. It's cheerful and light-hearted, with Domnérus' clarinet and Gustafsson's acoustic guitar capturing the personality of its fairytale heroine. The folk influence is still much in evidence: it's an influence that helps to give Johansson's work a distinctive sound, showing once again how his combination of jazz and Scandinavian tradition had so much to offer.

Track Listing: Visa från Utanmyra; Nature Boy; Emigrantvisa; Gånglek från Alvdalen; Sommar adjö; Polka fran Jämtland; Visa från Rättvik; Yesterdays; Fem; Dimma I dag; Vals från Delsbo; 3,2,1,--go!; Här kommer Pippi Langstrump.

Personnel: Jan Johansson: piano; Georg Riedel: bass; Claes Rosendahl: flute (2), woodwind (11); Bengt-Arne Wallin: trumpet (7, 8, 12); Bosse Broberg: trumpet (7, 8, 11, 12); Jan Allan: trumpet (11); Rolf Ericson: trumpet (11); Kurt Järnberg: trombone (11); Eje Thelin: trombone (7, 8, 12); Lennart Åberg: reeds (11); Eric Nordström: reeds (11); Rune Falk: reeds (7, 8, 11, 12); Arne Domnérus: reeds (7, 8, 11, 12); Bjarne Nerem: reeds (7, 8, 12); Rune Gustafsson: guitar (7-9, 11-13); Egil Johansen: drums (7, 8, 11, 12).

Title: In Hamburg | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ACT Music


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