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Ulf Wakenius: Momento Magico

Ian Patterson By

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If guitarist Ulf Wakenius' Vagabond (ACT Music, 2012) was a highlight in a discography that stretches back thirty years to Urban Experience (Dragon, 1984) then Momento Magico—which possibly raises the bar still further—serves as an anthology of his influences both old and new. Wakenius has toured the world extensively for decades, so it's perhaps unsurprising that the rhythms and melodies he's encountered have increasingly influenced his sound and broadened his vocabulary. On this sparkling solo effort Wakenius' six strings entertain the colors of Brazil, Mali, India and China, entwined with the jazz and classical hues that make him one of the most versatile of modern guitarists.

Wakenius previously paid homage to the music of pianist Esbjorn Svensson on Love is Real (ACT Music, 2008) and his rendition of e.s.t. drummer Magnus Ostrom's "Ballad for E" is as tender as the original. Rather than execute a dark lament Wakenius imbues gentle warmth and positivity in his personal tribute. Equally, the brief but poignant "Requiem for a Lost Son" is a beautifully delicate dedication to the late Evan Scofield, son of guitarist John Scofield.

In an album of contrasts both stylistically and of tempi, "Ballad for E" is juxtaposed with the passionate "Momento Magico," originally played as a duet on Korean singer Youn Sun Nah's Lento (ACT Music, 2013); based on Egberto Gismonti's "Frevo," Wakenius' hybrid jazz, classical and folk voicing is a dazzling riposte to Gismonti's memorable piano solo version from Solo (ECM, 1979). "Requiem for a Lost Son" is followed by "Mali on My Mind," which evokes the haunting melodicism and cantering rhythms of Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré.

The Chinese pipa is the inspiration for "The Dragon"—a vibrant vignette whose Eastern aesthetic is subtly implied; North Indian classical music provides the framework for "Hindustani Blues," a powerful track that builds from gentle stirrings to the drama of a raga in full flight, with Wakenius' strings singing like slide guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya. "Libretto" by bassist Lars Danielsson and Charles Trenet's perennial favorite "La Mer" conjure a sense of bucolic repose, with Wakenius' pronounced lyricism to the fore. An atmospheric, almost cinematic version of Erik Satie's late-nineteenth century piece "Gnossienne" and the fleeting "Preludio" dedicated to pianist Keith Jarrett once again blur the lines between jazz, classical and folk, not unlike many of the pianist's own compositions.

Wakenius returns to his roots on the swinging "Notes for OP and Wes" inspired by pianist Oscar Peterson—whom Wakenius accompanied for ten years up until the pianist's death in 2007—and guitarist Wes Montgomery. It's the most overtly jazz-centric of the tunes, and inevitably perhaps, the arena in which Wakenius fully displays his considerable chops. "Esperanto"'s melting pot of eastern influences from the Levant to the Middle East provides another vehicle for the guitarist to wed dramatic motifs and flowing improvised lines. "Sugar Man" is a fairly faithful interpretation of Sixto Rodriguez' 1970 blues-folk tune, resurrected by Malik Bendejlloul's extraordinary 2012 documentary Searching for Sugarman.

Wakenius is in a rich vein of form. One or two more gems like this and the guitarist, who made an international name for himself with Peterson, will have rebuilt his legend all over again.

Track Listing: Ballad For E.; Momento Magico; Liberetto; Hindustan Blues; Requiem For A Lost Son; Mail On My Mind; Gnossienne; The Dragon; Esperanto; Preludio; Notes For OP and Wes; Sugar Man; La Mer.

Personnel: Ulf Wakenius: steel string, nylon string, bass guitar.

Title: Momento Magico | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: ACT Music

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