Trombone enthusiasts can rejoice at the arrival of a new voice on an instrument which has been unjustly under-represented in the jazz canon. Regardless of Björn Samuelsson's considerable technique, fine intonation and improvisational prowess, the arrival of his debut disc featuring a quartet with trombone out front is likely to raise a few eyebrows.Jazz Formation
pays tribute to Swedish trombonist Åke Persson, a talent whose name might be unfamiliar to many jazz fans but whose reputation in European circles places him alongside J.J. Johnson and Curtis Fuller. He earned this reputation in the fifties and sixties backing many visiting American jazz luminaries and cutting just a few sides between 1951 and 1959. He died in 1975, one year before Samuelsson was born.
Samuelsson manages to pay homage to this little known but obviously influential musician without sacrificing his own budding and distinct voice. The disc kicks off with one of two Persson compositions, "Blue 3/4," in which Samuelsson takes a down-home stride with a natural feeling for the blues. The quartet's reading of "What Is This Thing Called Love" is bursting with energy as Samuelsson channels the elder trombonist's hard bop roots amidst the rhythm section's modernist twists.
"Nassie Goreng" and "Mountain Music" find Samuelsson flexing considerable muscle as an arranger, using overdubbed trombones to emulate an entire section. The latter piece features Åke Persson's recorded solo arranged in four parts. Samuelsson contributes six of the twelve selections, including the darkly beautiful "Statement" and warm, open "Alone at Last."
The second Persson composition, "Monotones," shows how dangerous the rhythm section can be when provoked by high-octane swing. Samuelsson's "A Done Deal" and "License to Chill" (the latter complete with a trippy companion remix) finds the quartet pursuing more modern sounds, lest the listener be tricked into thinking that its approach is consistently retro. Far from it. The influence of Persson's playing manifests itself as a launching point for a wide range of styles and ideas that are uniquely Samuelsson's domain. One can trace a direct lineage from the post-war trombonists' newfound facility for the vocabulary of bebop to Samuelsson's capacity for the demands of the modern language of jazz. It is a smooth transitionone worth noting, especially by those who might deign to impose constrictions of genre on his work.
Björn Samuelsson's debut promises great things. It will be interesting to see if this particular group of musicians will be able to stay together long enough to develop an even deeper rapport, as all four share an uncommon empathy and sense of fun. With Jazz Formation
, Samuelsson proves himself to be a first-rate musician with exceptional creative powers.