Åke Persson (1932-75), widely known as "the Comet, is arguably the greatest jazz trombonist ever to come out of Sweden (certainly the best-known), a truly remarkable innovator who performed with a galaxy of American stars and was a mainstay in the legendary Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band, as well as Germany's RIAS Big Band. Björn Samuelsson was born in 1976, one year after Persson drove his car into Stockholm's Djurgården canal, either accidentally or on purpose, and drowned there, so Samuelsson's images of the master rest solely on recordings he has heard. They were enough to convince him that a Letter to Åke
was in order.
The studio date begins, appropriately enough, with the first of two compositions by Persson, "Blue in 3/4, on which the rhythm section quickly validates its staunch work ethic while Samuelsson sculpts a captivating muted solo worthy of Persson himself. Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love, taken at a rapid tempo, precedes four originals by Samuelsson, a pair by Gösta Theselius, Persson's "Monotones and two more themes by Samuelsson, closing with a second version of Samuelsson's "A License to Chill, on which a number of electronic devices are used to underscore Christoffer Berg's contemporary arrangement.
Samuelsson has a velvety tone that Persson would no doubt have admired (listen to "Statement or "Alone at Last," for example), and his supple chops are equal to any task, sounding a bit more like young lions Andy Martin or Mark Nightingale than, say, Bill Harris, J.J. Johnson, Persson or the Danish star Kai Winding, who epitomized a different era. Theselius' breezy "Nassie Goreng and "Mountain Music are especially charming, as Samuelsson uses overdubbing to become a "trombone section and solos open and with various mutes.
The mercurial "Monotones, which would have tested even Frank Rosolino's unrivaled artistry, is another highlight among many, encompassing acrobatic slidework by Samuelsson and one of several dazzling solos by pianist Tommy Kotter. Samuelsson's graceful "Aake overflows with admiration for his illustrious precursor.
A warmhearted salute from one great trombonist to another, enhanced by state-of-the-art sound and unflagging rhythmic support. In other words, one Letter that should be opened, read and appreciated.