The last word has yet to be spoken on the role of the baritone saxophone in jazz big band writing. Duke Ellington used Harry Carney to great, often magnificent effect. Then, in 1960, Gerry Mulligan took things further with his Concert Jazz Band.
At that moment the Beatles and the beat boom that followed sounded the death knell for jazz as popular music. Big bands were no longer economically viable and the few that survived showed little interest in this always neglected member of the sax family.
It might have been "end of the story" had not a few enthusiasts battled on. They include the Swede Jakob Norgren who has managed to persuade his country's Arts Council to back this, first album of his jazz big band (other efforts have been mainly soul-oriented).
Norgren concentrates on writing and arranging, leaving the lion's share of soloing to tenor saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar. When he does play, it is in a markedly more probing, post-John Coltrane-style than that of Mulligan, or fellow Swede Lars Gullin, who established an international reputation on the instrument in the 1950s and early 60s.
An inquiring and original mind is at work here. When he's not playing jazz, Norgren works as a research assistant in cognitive neuroscience at Stockholm's Karolinska Institutet, which each year awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He also teaches psychology and social studies.
He describes Kullhammar, his collaborator on this project as "one of the most important Swedish jazz artists of the new millennium."
"Pathfinding," the title track, sets the tone for the album, Kullhammar emerging out of a brass-led ensemble to test the range of his tenor. "Some Kind of Dancing," which follows, is more relaxed, with a slightly Eastern feel, opening with bass and drums and featuring lyrical flugelhorn by Jonne Bentlöv.
"Serendipity" features straight-ahead jazz writing and playing, but with the theme stated by the leader on contra alto clarinet.
"Parade" has what Norgren describes as "a New Orleans groove." It features a "conversation" between Kullhammar and Mats Äleklint on trombone. "Secret Walks" is in two parts, the second more interesting than the first, bringing the album to a slightly sudden but still coherent conclusion.
If as a big band composer Norgren occasionally bites off a mite more than he can comfortably chew, that is surely better than simply churning out tired old charts trading on nostalgia for glory days long gone.
Pathfinding; Some Kind Of Dancing; Serendipity; Parade; Secret Walks, Part 1; Secret Walks, Part 2.
Jakob Norgren, Jonas Kullhammar, Peter Friedman, Lina Lövstrand, Kai Sundquist, Christian Herluf Pedersen: reeds; Fredrik Oscarsson, Jonne Bentlöv, David Ljunggren, Oscar Lindblom: trumpets; Mats Äleklint, Michael Rörby, Johan Åström, Klas Eriksson: trombones; Mathias Lundquist: piano; Lars Ekman: bass; Isak Andersson: drums.
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