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The potential of improvisation to achieve surprise makes it a vehicle for freshness in the right hands. However, when jazz musicians tread down old paths without stepping out, they betray this potential. Unfortunately, Johan Borgström's septet does just this on Smile and Be Serious. While the music on this disc is a mixed bag of straight-ahead swing, funky numbers, and occasional pensive moments, it fails to stir up any dust.
To put it harshly, the principle of theme and variation is meaningless without variation. While Borgström's playing occasionally asserts unique character, it usually does so in harmonically static settings. Keyboard player Tommy Kotter likewise hints at a potential to expand, but for the most part he's hemmed in by the need to comp or maintain funk vamps. Formally arranged portions on Smile generally offer neither harmonic complexity nor appreciable tonal evolution. While it's clear that these musicians enjoyed their work on this record (the zany liner notes attest to a uniquely Scandinavian vim), their collective endeavor has little to offer a listener with any interest in something more than tiny steps off the beaten path.
Track Listing: Introduction; Smile and Be Serious; Tam-Tam Nouveau Suite: I; II; III; Ryssland; Don't Call Me Again, Sam; It Turned Out to Be...; Obli (Inner Thoughts); Dum-Dum; P.I.M. (Boys in the Dark); Nasa; Warpeace.
Personnel: Johan Borgström: soprano, alto, and tenor saxophones; E flat clarinet. Staffan Svensson: trumpet. Niclas Rydh:
tenor and bass trombone. Jonas Franke-Blom: cello. Tommy Kotter: piano and Fender Rhodes. Stefan
Wingefors: double bass. Goran Kroon: drums.
Jazz is a continuing revelation. The best show I ever attended was the
Roots Picnic at Penn's Landing in Philadelphia, or was it Robert
Glasper's Experiment at Lincoln Center, or was it Chick Corea with
Brian Blade at Oberlin College? Most of all I enjoy playing guitar and
composing beats with my Brooklyn-based group Space Captain.