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Jonas Kullhammar: Snake City North

Michael McCaw By

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There is nothing quite like the muscular sound of a big band that is busting at the seams with energy while disposing of the all-too-common brassy clichés of big band recordings. Fronted by tenor saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar and his quartet with pianist Torbjörn Gulz, acoustic bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg, and drummer Jonas Holgersson, the Norrbotten Big Band provides top-notch music filled with fire and soul, not far removed from the Mingus Big Band in its vitality and richness.

Snake City North is filled with above board players and invigorating charts, from the Gil Evans-esque ballad "For X to the winding "Snake City East, whose piano intro leads into full-on horn passages that build and build, with Kullhammar racing out from underneath the intricately hulking brass section. An impressive player, Kullhammar possess a powerful midrange tone that is not overbearing but is capable of a commanding presence even amidst a cavalcade of reeds.

Sometimes sounding similar to Sonny Rollins, Kullhammar possesses a quick delivery with a penchant for groove, without losing the range to find his way into the freer range of the greenery, cutting through everyone else. And here he is always the focal point when he takes the lead. And although Kullhammar contributes the bulk of the pieces here (they're arranged by Gulz), they do not place him squarely as a lead with a backing band, but rather a soloist integrated within a band.

To this end, numerous players make themselves known through strong solos. Trombonist Peter Dahlgren lays down an absolutely stellar one on the aptly titled "Frippes Blues, which also features Kullhammar in a true solo spot, where his more avant leanings come to light but are reined in enough to segue way back into the blues theme without misstep. Zetterberg also offers some thrilling spotlights of both depth and technique on "I Sheriffens Klor and "Slow Drop.

It's sad that more albums like this aren't released these days. There may not be anything groundbreaking here, but the practically seamless integration of a quartet and expanded horn aggregate is a potent and powerful combination that makes for a unique listening experience. On the positive side, it is nice to see that this album is of such high quality.

Throughout Snake City North, Kullhammar exhibits the strength and potential that should launch him onto many radar screens he doesn't occupy already. And by the time he leads the way through the album's closing number, "Bebopalulia, which resembles a swaggering funk jump song and covers a large amount of ground in under four minutes, you know that this recording is one of heart and soul as much as chops. Don't miss it.

Track Listing: Snake City East

Personnel: Jonas Kullhammar (ts) Torbj

Title: Snake City North | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Moserobie

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