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Jan Johansson: In Hamburg with Georg Riedel

Ian Patterson By

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Jan Johansson

In Hamburg with Georg Riedel

ACT Music

2011

The small number of posthumous releases in the 42 years since the death of Swedish jazz pianist/composer Jan Johansson at the age of 37 remains something of a mystery. Johansson—who pianist Esbjorn Svensson described as being "a very, very big influence"—has also been an inspiration for pianists Bobo Stenson, Tord Gustavsen, Andreas Ulvo and Jan Lungdren, and Swedish jazz-electronic duo, Koop. Composers/arrangers Bob Brookmeyer and Gil Evans were also admirers of Johansson, as was saxophonist Stan Getz, who hired Johansson to tour in the late 1950s, captured for posterity on Stan Getz at Large (Verve, 1960).

Yet, despite Johansson's enduring importance, few posthumous recordings have seen the light of day. 300,00 (Megafon, 1971)—Johansson's final recordings—and Spelar music på sitt eget (Megafon, 1973) were practically all that came out of Johansson's 1960s heyday. And apart from a couple of compilations of early recordings, with saxophonist Arne Domnerus on Younger than Springtime 1959-1961 (Megafon, 1973) and with bassist Gunnar Johnson on Gunnar Johnson Quintet 1957-1959 (Dragon Records, 1999), there was precious little for Johansson fans to cheer about until Live in Tallinn—released on LP in 1978—made it onto CD 16 years later on Heptagon. That recording, dug up from Estonian radio archives, documented Johansson with long-time associates, bassist Georg Riedel and guitarist Rune Gustaffson, in fine form at the Tallinn Jazz Festival in 1966. So, previously unreleased performance material surfacing in 2011 is something to celebrate.

The recordings—featuring Johansson's closest musical collaborator, bassist Riedel—document Johansson's forays in Hamburg, Germany at the invitation of the NDR between January 1964 and June 1968. Several cuts from 1965 feature Johansson and Riedel as a duo, interpreting music from Jazz på Svenska (Megafon, 1964), the groundbreaking reworking of Swedish folk songs. This is the Johansson best known to several generations of Swedes and a recording which has sold 400,000 copies. Four selections feature Johansson at the heart of the NDR studio band, while four intriguing recordings show Johansson at his best---with some of Sweden's finest jazz musicians—in special NDR "workshops." A bonus track, "Här kommer Pippi Långstrump"—an unfinished demo at the time of Johansson's death—was recorded by Riedel, Domnerus and Gustaffson in 1973.

It's a treat to hear "live" performances of the quartet of Swedish folk songs. Johansson and Riedel—whose counterpoint is a delight—remain faithful to the core melodies of "Visa från Utanmyra," "Emigrantvsia," "Gånglek från Älvdalen" and "Polska från Jåmtland," though the real interest lies in the very personal articulation of Johansson's solos, full of intriguing rubato, flowing Arabesque runs and blue sonorities. Blues pianist Champion Jack Dupree was another fan of Johansson's playing, unsurprising given that the blues touched practically everything Johansson played. Another track from Jazz på Svenska, "Visa från Rättvik," sees Johansson lead a ten-piece ensemble of his Swedish contemporaries. Reeds and woodwind color a compelling arrangement. The clatter of a music stand falling during the piano and bass intro attests to the in-the-moment nature of these NDR workshop recordings.

Two NDR workshop performances are in front of a live audience; Johansson and Riedel's imaginative arrangement of the Jerome Kern/Otto Harbach standard "Yesterdays" sees contrasting moods created by a bass and woodwind intro and a lovely combination of reeds and brass. Johansson lifts the piece with a mazy solo—accompanied by drummer Egil Johansen on brushes—and guitarist Gustaffson impresses with a tasteful solo. The cream of Sweden's jazz show its collective chops on Johansson's bebop-inspired "3,2,1—go!" Trombonist Eje Thelin takes a fine solo, as does Johansson, whose blistering pace reveals the influence of pianist Art Tatum. "Vals från Delsbo"—for a 13-piece ensemble—is a Gil Evans-influenced arrangement of another Swedish folk tune. Johansson's bluesy solo—all right hand—develops over an atmospheric reed drone.

The compositions with the NDR studio band vary nicely in mood. "Nature Boy," by the singular Eden Ahbez was a huge hit for pianist/singer Nat "King" Cole—another important influence on Johansson—but Johansson's dazzling playing bears little resemblance to Cole here. Johansson's dramatic, swirling run provides the climax, warmly enveloped by the NDR reeds. Johansson and Riedel's chemistry is highlighted on the bassist's "Sommar ådjo" with the NDR studio band ghosting in and out. Johansson's swinging "Fem" sounds rather of its time, though there's no escaping the delightful melody, nor the energy in the arrangement; the interplay between Johansson and Gustaffson provides the highlight. Johansson's "Dimma i dag" reveals another compositional side to Johansson; episodic and cinematic in nature, a great tuba riff and purring bass clarinet lend a noirish feel to the music.

The recording quality throughout is high and the recording information satisfactory. A welcome addition to Johansson's discography, Jan Johansson in Hamburg with Georg Riedel is a wonderful reminder of the modernist Johansson's immense talent as a pianist, composer and arranger, and should serve as a great entry point for anyone curious to know why he remains so influential today.

Tracks: 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).


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).

Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ACT Music | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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