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Ulf Wakenius: Love is Real: Ulf Wakenius Plays the Music of Esbjorn Svensson

John Kelman By

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While the recent proliferation of piano trios has proven the pop/rock world can provide plenty of grist for jazz exploration, few are as successful as e.s.t. in writing instantly (and consistently) memorable original material that's rife for reexamination by others. The democratic trio attributes its writing to the group, but pianist Esbjorn Svensson is clearly its main ideas man.

Ulf Wakenius mined iconic pianist Keith Jarrett for the sublime Notes from the Heart (ACT, 2005). But this virtuoso Swedish guitarist, who worked with Oscar Peterson for ten years near the end of his life, took a sparer approach to Jarrett's material. Notes was strictly a trio outing, with Wakenius focusing solely on acoustic guitar. Bassist Lars Danielsson and drummer Morten Lund are both back for Love is Real, but on this tribute to the music of Svensson, Wakenius adds pianist Lars Jansson to the core group, and expands his own palette to include electric guitar.

In the interest of even greater expansionism, Wakenius enlists the remarkable radio.string.quartet.vienna—whose Celebrating the Mahavishnu Orchestra (ACT) was a 2007 sleeper hit—to color five of Svensson's songs. Trombonist Nils Landgren, and trumpeters Till Bronner and Paolo Fresu, guest on one song each.

Wakenius' reinvention of e.s.t.'s "Dodge the Dodo" highlights Svensson's strength as a writer of instantly unforgettable melodies. e.s.t.'s version combined a rock-edged rhythm section and edgy arco solo from bassist Dan Berglund, but Wakenius turns it into an epic, string-driven arrangement, incorporating a Middle Eastern vibe, a nylon string guitar solo of mind-bending facility, and a metal-edged turn by Wakenius' son Eric.

Wakenius proves capable of matching any guitarist chop-for-chop with his solo on the fiery "When God Created the Coffee Break," featuring Jansson's most exciting playing of the set. At his core, however, he's a lyrical player, concerned more with speaking to the heart than the mind. "Believe, Bereft, Below"—perhaps Svensson's most covered tune, with five other ACT artists covering it since Seven Days of Falling (ACT, 2003)—becomes a ballad redolent of the same Midwestern folksiness as the title track to guitarist Pat Metheny's redoubtable Travels (ECM, 1983). "Shining on You" exists in similar territory, Danielsson's unmistakable tone featured both as Wakenius' melodic partner and elegantly spare soloist.

The intimacy of the string quartet's contribution to "Viaticum" is blended with Paolo Fresu's muted trumpet, turning its deceptive simplicity into a closer of nuanced beauty and understated power. Wakenius' bluesy steel-stringed acoustic guitar intro to "Good Morning Susie Soho," on the other hand, defines a mid-tempo groove bolstered by the rhythm section, the perfect backdrop for Funk Unit leader Nils Landgren's warm-toned, but groove-heavy trombone solo.

With Love is Real, Wakenius disproves the belief that there are plenty of great players today but few writers who can reach the high bar of those responsible for the hallowed Great American Songbook. Every song here is a winner, not just for Svensson's inestimable writing, but for Wakenius' ability to interpret the songs with the perfect mix of reverence and ingenuity.


Track Listing: Seven Days of Falling; Dodge the Dodo; Believe, Bereft, Below (Love is Real); Tuesday Wonderland; Elevation of Love; Pavane "Thoughts of a Septuagenarian"; Good Morning Susie Soho; Eighthundred Streets by Feet; When God Created the Coffee Break; Shining on You; Viaticum.

Personnel: Ulf Wakenius: acoustic nylon guitar, acoustic steel guitar, electric guitar; Lars Danielsson: double-bass, cello, effects; Lars Jansson: acoustic piano; Morten Lund: drums, cajon, percussion. radio.string.quartet.vienna (2, 4, 6, 8, 11): Bernie Mallinger: violin, string arrangement (2, 4, 11); Johannes Dickbauer: violin, string arrangement (2, 8); Cynthia Liao: viola; Asja Valcic: cello. Special guests: Till Bronner: trumpet (1); Paolo Fresu: trumpet (11); Nils Landgren: trombone (7); Eric Wakenius: electric guitar (2); Esbjorn Svensson: string arrangement (6).

Title: Love is Real: Ulf Wakenius Plays the Music of Esbjorn Svensson | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ACT Music

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