The New Places
to which Swedish composer/arranger Håkan Broström takes us are sunny and pleasant, teeming with scenic avenues and charming byways. At the center are his charismatic charts and evocative alto (or soprano) saxophone, twin beacons that gladden and safeguard the listener on a consistently agreeable and rewarding journey.
It's an impressive debut for Broström, who has played and recorded with a number of big bands but never led one before. Besides having written and arranged everything, he conducts the excellent Norrbotten Big Band on seven of the album's dozen selections, smaller ensembles with strings on the other five. His themes are vivid and upbeat with an explicit Nordic veneer. Above all, they are melodically pleasing and rhythmically powerful (as are his solos, four on alto, seven on soprano).
Broström has a keen ear for orchestral color, and thanks to his perceptive arrangements, the Norrbotten band, in whose ranks he has worked as a sideman since 1993, has never sounded sharper or more accessible. The tracks with strings are equally satisfying, as Broström keeps his luminous saxophone at the forefront and consigns the string, woodwind and rhythm sections to subordinate yet wholly suitable supporting roles.
Even though Broström's is the most prominent solo voice, there are incisive comments along the way by trumpeter Peter Asplund, alto Johan Hörlén, tenors Karl-Martin Almqvist (featured on "Storytellers Waltz ) and Robert Nordmark, trombonists Bertil Strandberg and Peter Dahlgren, pianist Jacob Karlzon, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Bengt Stark. Alberto Pinton's resonant bass clarinet introduces the breathtaking "Starry Night, while Asplund is especially impressive on the loping "Three Year Old Cowboy.
In his liner notes, Lars Westin describes Broström as "an exciting and highly personal composer in the best jazz tradition, and I couldn't agree more. To his credit, Broström never forswears that tradition, and the music he writes is as congenial as it is contemporary. In other words, the best of both possible worlds. He really should venture into these New Places more often.