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Jacob Karlzon: Heat / Improvisational Three

Chris Mosey By

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Jacob Karlzon is one of the most interesting pianists on today's Swedish jazz scene—percussive, intense, yet capable of great lyricism. Unwilling to be pigeonholed, he plays in a great many different constellations, most visibly with vocalist Viktoria Tolstoy, great granddaughter of Leo, for whom he composes and arranges.

At the age of 39, Karlzon has already released six albums under his own name, but Heat and Improvisational Three are his boldest statements to date, revealing new facets of a complex and dynamic musical personality that is still evolving.

With these two albums, Karlzon stakes a credible claim to be counted up there alongside such hallowed Swedish pianists as Bengt Hallberg, Jan Johansson and Bobo Stenson.

Jacob Karlzon
Heat
Caprice Records
2009

Karlzon, his face blackened in Photoshop for the cover, eyes staring moodily, making him look like an escapee from a chain gang, says: "Heat is a tribute to those who burn for what they do...to people who become involved in something to the point where passion takes over and they do it because they have to. I recognize this from my experience as a musician—I play because I must."

The album is a mix of trio and ensemble tracks, a far better idea than his previous, occasional Big Five outfit. In addition to seven of Karlzon's own compositions, it features "Sonatine Modere" by Maurice Ravel (of whom more in Improvisational Three), "Gollum's Song" from the Lord of the Rings film and "Hollow Life" by KoRn, a heavy metal band from Bakersfield, California that has sold—sharp intake of breath, please—25 million records worldwide.

Karlzon appears more relaxed on the trio numbers, where he takes a "less is more" approach. Drummer Jonas Holgersson deserves an honourable mention for his excellent work on "Hollow Life," while bassist Hans Andersson merits a medal for "Gollum's Song," where he adds the sinister overtones to a beautiful, meditative arrangement by Karlzon that provides a truly rounded portrait of Tolkien's most complex and ultimately tragic character.

"Rubik 4 Real" is a veritable tour de force by the leader, his long melodic lines becoming increasingly complex as the song progresses. "Sonatine Modere" is Ravel expertly jazzed up. "Late Night/Early Morning" is a lilting, melancholy ballad, reminiscent here and there of "Oh Danny Boy." "Always in August" encapsulates both the longing that Swedes have for summer and the sadness they feel knowing that, by that time of the year, it's fast coming to an end and they are heading once more into the long, dark winter.

Karlzon is more on edge on the ensemble tracks. His playing on "7th Avenue," which features some thoughtful John Coltrane-influenced soprano saxophone from Karl-Martin Almqvist, is very reminiscent of McCoy Tyner, sometimes a little too dense for comfort harmonically, though always interesting. Trumpeter Peter Asplund joins in on the ensemble passages but doesn't solo.

The hauntingly beautiful original "Laika" features a laid back Karlzon, complemented by Almkvist on tenor. Then we have the title track, "Heat" with Almqvist now supremely confident, again on tenor. Once more, Asplund contributes only to the ensemble passages. But on the closing number, "Still Hope" he—at long last—delivers an extremely well constructed, nicely restrained solo as the leader exits, all guns blazing.

Jacob Karlzon
Improvisational Three
Caprice Records
2008

An acknowledgement of Karlzon's stature came when he was asked by Concerts Sweden (Rikskonserter), a state-run foundation that promotes live music, to participate in the third of its Caprice record label's Improvisational series. The idea of the series is "to create new and challenging musical platforms for improvised music." Each record is created under identical conditions, recorded at night in the concert hall at Nybrokajen 11 in central Stockholm, headquarters of Concerts Sweden, on a Steinway grand piano with only a producer/sound technician present. Pianists are not told what the theme for their particular session will be before recording starts.

Karlzon's theme was the work of Maurice Ravel (1875-1935), the French Impressionistic composer best known for "Bolero," which he himself considered trivial, describing it jokingly as "a piece for orchestra without music."

A shortened version is included here, along with six other pieces and three "free improvisations" by Karlzon in the spirit of Ravel. While he may not yet be another Arthur Rubinstein or Krystian Zimerman, Karlzon acquits himself extraordinarily well, gaining in confidence as the session—or perhaps recital—progresses. The only jarring note is an interpretation of "Alborada Del Gracioso" that is a tad heavy-handed, though Karlzon more than makes up for this with the two "free improvisations" that follow and concludes in fine, lyrical style on "Menuet Sur Le Nom d'Haydn."


Tracks and Personnel

Heat

Tracks: 7th Avenue; Hollow Life; Gollum's Song; Rubik 4 Real; Laika; Sonatine Modere; Always In August; Heat; Late Night/Early Morning; Still Hope.

Personnel: Jacob Karlzon: piano; Karl-Martin Almqvist: saxophones; Peter Asplund: trumpet; Hans Andersson: bass; Jonas Holgersson: drums.

Improvisational Three

Tracks: Prelude; Menuet Antique; Le Gibet; Free Improvisation II; Valses Nobles Et Sentimentales; Bolero; Alborada Del Gracioso; Free Improvisation IV; Free Improvisation III; Menuet Sur Le Nom d'Haydn.

Personnel: Jacob Karlzon: piano.


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