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Lars Danielsson: Love is the Message

James Pearse By

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Saturday night in an unusually mild December 2011 at Stockholm's premier jazz venue, Fasching, could only mean one thing: the place was heaving. As well as the unseasonable weather and the looming Christmas period, the reason so many festive Swedes were crammed in like tinned herring was to catch a rare glimpse of national hero Nils Landgren and his quartet in a club setting. Landgren allowed ample opportunity for his other musicians to show off their breadth and depth. Bassist Lars Danielsson, in particular, brought a lot to the ensemble's live sound, contributing a thoughtful, resonant tone and swirling, often experimental passages.

The reason Landgren continues to use Danielsson has become even clearer upon further exploration of the bassist's own work. Danielsson—who also plays cello and piano—was born in 1958 in the industrial port city of Gothenburg on the east coast of Sweden. His established career in jazz as a bandleader, sideman and producer has taken him on countless journeys around the world, recording and/or touring with international names including guitarists John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Mike Stern, Joey Calderazzo, Jack DeJohnette, saxophonists Bill Evans (saxophone) and Charles Lloyd, , Billy Hart, pianist Joe Sample and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Danielsson has also been responsible for productions with his wife, Caecilie Norby, and The Danish Radio Orchestra. Together with Norby, he has been commissioned to write all the music for the theater production Bastards, which will premier in May, 2012 in Iceland. With his own music, however, Danielsson tends to travel inwards, depending on acoustic instrumentation, orchestral arrangements and even sampling as his guide.

Danielsson, who lists Bach, The Beatles and Gabriel Fauré among his favorite composers, takes contemplative strides with each new album. His compositions occupy that hazy territory many refer to as "chamber jazz," lying somewhere between jazz and the European classical music tradition. In his songs, he beautifully contrasts textures and melancholia with soaring melodies, without ever sounding self-absorbed. In six recordings as a leader for the German ACT label, he has used his compositional skills to explore the gentle side of his personality and the cold, northerly world he inhabits. His music affords him a platform for introspection and ample ground upon which to explore the art of elegant jazz-meets-classical music.

All About Jazz: Tonight is the penultimate show of your tour, which started in Germany over two months ago, in support of Swedish trombonist Nils Landgren's Swedish Grammy-nominated The Moon, The Stars and You (ACT, 2011). How has it gone so far?

Lars Danielsson: This has been a great tour. This is one of the last shows presenting the album live this fall. We've done 26 concerts in Switzerland, Germany and now Sweden.

AAJ: How did your musical collaboration with Nils Landgren come about?

LD: We met in the mid-'80s. He was producing an album for a Swedish singer called Sharon Dyall. He called me and asked me if I could play on the recording with my trio at the time. I played with Nils in different situations but not as part of his band until the Sentimental Journey (ACT) album, which came out in 2002. He called me to play on The Moon, The Stars and You because he knows me and he knows my way of playing, which is pretty different from other bassists he works with. On this album, we play a range of styles from standards and other famous jazz tunes to funk and pop tunes. He knew I could play all these styles and maybe bring something else to the mix, which I hope I have done.

AAJ: You certainly have. In the quartet's live take on Mancini's "Moon River," you inserted an unexpectedly spatial, five-minute section at the beginning of the song, replete with thoughtful, resonant bass notes and swirling, often experimental passages. What was the thinking behind your intro to "Moon River"?

LD: That's something that only happens live. I played on the recording you can hear on the CD, but my role is much bigger when we're on tour. "Moon River" is where I show off my way of playing. Now that this tour is ending, I'll go out on tour again in March with my quartet and we'll visit Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden and some other places I'm not sure of just yet.

AAJ: Your upcoming release is called Liberetto (ACT, 2012). The word "libretto" is usually used in association with opera and classical music rather than jazz. Why did you choose that title?

LD: "Liberetto" is my own word. "Libretto" (with one "e") is a word used in opera and classical music, but I made up "liberetto" as a link to my earlier recording Libera me (ACT, 2005). This way, there's a connection between the albums' names and a reference to classical music terminology.

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