With the death of Arne Domnerus, at the age of 83, on September 2, 2008, a great and all-pervading light went out on the Swedish jazz scene. "Dompan," as he was universally known in his homeland, started out playing Benny Goodman-influenced clarinet in a Stockholm college band in his teens, graduated to alto saxophone in diverse, long forgotten Swedish dance orchestras, then played in the Swedish jazz band that took the 1949 Paris jazz festival by storm. Later that year he cut his first records as leader for Metronome and the following year led the band that opened on Charlie Parker's tour of Sweden.
He made an epic series of records with visiting Americans James Moody, Zoot Sims, George Wallington, Clifford Brown, Art Farmer and Quincy Jones. He played in Harry Arnold's Swedish Radio Big Band from 1956 to 1965, and then took over the leadership when it was reformed as a smaller outfit from 1966-1978. Though at the same time, he was always careful to keep one foot firmly in the world of more commercial music. He cut the first Swedish recording of "Rock Around The Clock," with Gunnar "Siljabloo" Nilson handling the vocals, took part in Dixieland sessions and backed a good many pop singers.
In his very Swedish, unassuming way, he said he developed his own style because he couldn't hope to play like his idols, Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges and, of course, Bird.
This double CD tribute compilation features Domnerus' later recordings. It includes tracks from the classic 1977 album, Jazz at the Pawnshop, from the 1990s albums Sketches of Standards and Live is Life, (both on Proprius Records), plus four tracks from Svenska Jazzklassiker (Naxos Nostalgia), an exercise in nostalgia, featuring rather cheesy 1950s arrangements. There is also a solitary inclusion from a 1974 album, Antiphone Blues (Proprius) of his haunting rendition of the old Negro spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," backed by Gustaf Sjokvist on organ.
The Pawnshop tracks are the standouts as straight-ahead jazz content, but Domnerus was also capable of transcending the most unpromising material. One example featured here is his total transformation of the hoary old Bob Dylan folk revival anthem "Blowing in the Wind" which, with the admirable Rune Gustafsson on guitar, is transformed into something of a mini masterpiece. Unfortunately, Dompan was also capable of pretension. His overblown version of his old idol Benny Carter's "The Fable of a Fool," positively drips with sentiment, replete with saccharin string and harp accompaniment.
CD1: Poor Butterfly; Memories Of You; Take The A-Train; Blowing In The Wind; Lady Be Good; I'm Confessin'; It Don't Mean A Thing; I've Got It Bad; Jeep's Blues; Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.
CD2: Things Ain't What They Used To Be; Hymn to Freedom; The Midnight Sun Will Never Set; Autumn Leaves; Take Five; Jazz Me Blues; Lush Life; Is God A Three Letter Word For Love?; The Fable Of A Fool; Hallelujah; That Old Black Magic; Out Of Nowhere.
Arne Domnerus: alto sax, alto clarinet; Lars Erstrand: vibes (CD1#1-3, CD1#5, CD1#6, CD1#9, CD2#1, CD2#3, CD2#5, CD2#7); Jan Lundgren: piano (CD1#1-3, CD2#1, CD2#3, CD2#7); Hans Backenroth: bass (CD1#1-3, CD2#1, CD2#3, CD2#7); Rasmus Kihlberg: drums (CD1#1-3, CD2#1, CD2#3, CD2#7); Bengt Hallberg: piano (CD1#5, CD2#6, CD2#9, CD2#5); Georg Riedel: bass (CD1#5, CD1#6, CD1#9, CD2#5); Egil Johansen: drums (CD1#5, CD1#6, CD1#9, CD2#5); Rune Gustafsson: guitar (CD1#4, CD1#7, CD1#8, CD2#2, 4, 6, 8); Gustaf Sjokvist: organ (CD1#4, CD1#7, CD1#8, CD2#2, CD2#4, CD2#6, CD2#8); Gunnar Svensson: piano (CD2#9-12); Yngve Akerberg: bass (CD2#9-12); Jack Noren: drums (CD2#9-12); Rolf Ericson: trumpet (CD2#9-12).