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Cecilia Persson: Open Rein

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Swedish pianist and composer Cecilia Persson is best known for her work in vocalist Lina Nyberg's band and with Paavo the band she leads with vocalist Sofia Jernberg. Open Rein is Persson's debut as a solo artist, featuring a set of impressive originals. The release solidifies her status as a promising composer, improviser and bandleader, already recognized as such by Swedish Radio, who awarded her the Jazzkatten prize as the composer of the year and the Norrbotten Big Band, that invited her to be their composer in residence for 2014. The recording's title alludes to her other great passion besides music, horse-riding, and describes using the reins in a loose fashion to guide the horse in finding balance. This title is an apt description of Persson's music: the piano bench as a saddle, from where she directs the music, keeping it balanced, loose and flowing.

Persson employs ten musicians on this album, combined in different formats and on different compositions. All her songs emphasize the careful, collaborative ensemble work where improvised parts expand composed ones, adding to Persson's role as a thoughtful, resourceful composer and arranger of European jazz. She wisely structures multi-layered textures featuring the strong individual voices of her core quartet—vibes player Mattias Ståhl, double bassist Nils Ölmedal and drummer Peter Nilsson, as well as the voices of additional musicians.

All the compositions are interconnected with repetitive ideas and themes. The opening one, "Amble Sinfonia," simply introduces the fleeting, nuanced voices and the colors of the ten muscians. The second, "Conlon," stresses Persson's qualities as the composer of a lyrical chamber piece with her patient, delicate interplay featuring clarinetist Per 'Texas' Johansson and Ståhl. The driving "Norrtullsligan" and "Halvhalt" revolve around strong themes articulated beautifully by the charismatic Johansson, now on tenor sax, and repeated by the powerful rhythm section of Persson, Ståhl, Ölmedal and Nilsson. Ståhl and Persson's playful, courting interplay form the backbone of "Serpentine" while the slow, chamber title pieces highlight gentle interplay between Johansson and trumpeter Eivind Lønning. The minimalist "Rozano" is the most experimental track here, alternating between lightly composed piano and the improvised sonic explorations of her core quartet.

The last three, continuous compositions feature nine musicians and are the most impressive on the album. "Amble Rondo" highlights the talkative clarinet duet of Fredrik Ljungkvist and Thomas Backman, echoed beautifully by Lønning and Ståhl while the rhythm section of Persson, Ölmedal and Nilsson methodically solidify tight and massive rhythms until these parallel interactions melt into a chaotic coda. The chamber piece "Amble Menuet" again plays with the delicate, dance- like interplay of Ljungkvist and Backman, still on clarinets, augmented now with Lønning, then expanded gently by the ensemble. "Amble Finale" concludes this fine, highly enjoyable ride with tight, balanced and powerful playing, coupled with a hidden piece featuring the same excellent group in a beautiful, emotional dance of love.

Track Listing: Amble Sinfonia; Conlon; Norrtullsligan; Serpentine; Open Rein; Halvhalt; Rozano; Amble Rondo; Amble Menuet; Amble Finale.

Personnel: Cecilia Persson: piano; Per ‘Texas’ Johansson: clarinet and tenor saxophone (1-7); Leo Svensson: cello (1, 3-10); Mattias Ståhl: vibraphone; Nils Ölmedal: double bass; Peter Nilsson: drums; Eivind Lønning: trumpet (1,3,5,8-10); Thomas Backman: clarinet, bass clarinet (1. 8-10); Fredrik Ljungkvist: clarinet, tenor saxophone (1, 8-10); Olof Wendel: marimba (1, 8-10).

Title: Open Rein | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Hoob Records

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