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Germany's ACT Music is an innovative and adventurous label with an international roster that includes some genuinely cutting-edge musicians including Vijay Iyer and Dan Berglund's Tonbruket. Magic Moments 4: Jazz Is Cool is the fourth in ACT's sampler series and a great place to begin exploring the music it has to offer.
The majority of the tracks here come from Northern European artists and demonstrate the range of talent that is emanating from that relatively small part of the world. The Esbjorn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.) is one of the best known of these acts and its contribution here, "Spam-Boo-Limbo," is hugely enjoyable. So, too, are the contributions of trombonist Nils Landgrenhis solo on the Chris Gall Trio's "Blues Panic" is fiery and swinging at the same time, in stark contrast to his vocal on his version of Sting's "Fragile," performed with the NDR Big Band, which is tender and beautiful.
Tonbruket contributes "The Wind and the Leaves," a lovely folk-inspired tune led by Johan Lindström's gentle guitar and Martin Hederos' accordion. The Jan Lundgren Trio may have echoes of e.s.t. in its approach, but the band is no mere copyist"Yo Vivo Enamorao" features superb playing from bassist Mattias Svensson and drummer Zoltan Csorsz Jr., as well as from pianist Lundgren.
There are some less successful tracks, however. Ida Sand's "Brutal Truth" is a generic blues, while Wolfgang Haffner and Sebastian Studnitzky's "Azul" is bland nu-jazz. Youn Sun Nah's version of Tom Waits' classic "Jockey Full of Bourbon" features gritty and atmospheric guitar from Ulf Wakenius, but the singer is unconvincing.
Such disappointments are few, though, and interspersed between plenty of terrific music. The more left-field of ACT's acts are a revelation. Swedish quintet Oddjob, with the help of pedal steel guitar from Tonbruket's Lindström, add a spooky new dimension to the Spaghetti Western theme "Hang 'Em High." The Cèline Bonacina Trio deliver the funky ZigZag Blues led by Bonacina's amazingly fluid baritone sax. Swedish vocalist Josefine Cronholm performs the most intriguing song in the set: the mysterious and laid back "Silver White Man."
Beautifully packaged and designed, Magic Moments 4: Jazz Is Cool ably demonstrates the breadth of jazz talent to be found on ACT Music. Iyer and e.s.t. may be the big names, but there are plenty of others here who are creating some fine and inventive music.
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