Home » Jazz Articles » Extended Analysis » Sten Sandell: Sten Standell: Music Inside The Language


Sten Sandell: Sten Standell: Music Inside The Language


Sign in to view read count
Sten Sandell: Sten Standell: Music Inside The Language
Swedish pianist Sten Sandell is one of the key figures in the Scandinavian free jazz and improvisation scene: a visionary and experienced musician who has developed a profound musical language. He is a member of the Gush trio, with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and drummer Raymond Strid, celebrating this year its 20th year of activity, and leads his own trio, with bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, and collaborates with other innovative European improvisers as saxophonists Evan Parker and John Butcher.

On Music Inside The Language Sandell investigates his musical language and attempts to formulate it anew, from a fresh perspective, without any attachment to conventions, routines or approaches. It is a philosophical study as much as it is a musical journey, and can be seen also as a political or moral text that investigates what is the role and responsibility of an artist and the most disturbing questions about the essence of art. What is music, how it is affected, how it moves and communicates with the space that is performed in, what are its relationship to a given text or images, how it changes, here and now, or between situations and places, and how it moves, acts and reacts, according to the characters of other musicians, and how the language is inseparable from the constant listening process. Sandell does not intend to have any definite answers but to sketch a few approaches that may serve him as an improviser who seeks to to expand the properties of himself as an improvising artist, fully aware that these questions trigger more and more attempts to come closer to satisfactory solutions.

This project, Sandell's tenth solo album, a 3-disc set, is divided into a few chapters, each offering a new insight, recorded on several different halls and studios. The first chapter offers three piano solos. Sandell's playing is highly poetic, his improvisations invent a syntax with a distinctive relation to time, space, silence, rhythm, repetition and timbre, and his approach sees the whole piano, including the option to hammer or twist its wires directly, as one unity.

The second chapter, the drama, where Sandell adds to his palette of sounds organ and electronics and reads poetic texts refers to music as a dramatic texture. The pieces are inter-textual compositions of sounds—musical notes and words, organic, sometimes abstract, weird and disturbing ones coupled with comprehensive, verbal lines and non-verbal overtones singing and gibberish, often in a childlike manner. Sandell follows John Cage's philosophy that saw the beauty in all sounds. This aural mixture of colliding sounds succeeds to create an arresting dramatic impact.

The third chapter feature a trio with extraordinary vocalist Sofia Jernberg and master double bassist and vocalist Nina de Heney that has worked together since 2009. This is the most accessible part of this project. All three deconstruct and reconstruct their shared language—the musical and the verbal—into a series of mutated alphabetical, phonetic syllables, interrupted poetic lines and emotionally charged song-like sonic articulations, within a loose grammatical framework, creating a sensual and emphatic interplay that introduces more and more surprising and inventive dynamics and sounds. The sensitivity of all three musicians, their immediate responses and instincts, the telepathic understanding and endless flow of ideas, is exemplary. This chapter and this resourceful trio offers the most intriguing realization of Sandell's musical language. The duo with guitarist David Stackenäs is an intense yet subdued free improvisation that focus on expanding the sonic envelope of the piano and the guitar, using various extended techniques.

The last chapter is an almost hour-long drone-sound poem, "Borduna 58´20´´." The sense of time and space is lost within this deep, electric-atmospheric soundscape, disturbed occasionally by white noise and brief electronic eruptions. Slowly narrowing its sonic options into a constant stream of enigmatic and meditative noise.

Music Inside The Language is clearly Sandell's most important work. A magnificent personal journey into the inner mechanism of free improvisation, music and art.

Track Listing

CD1: Music Inside the Language – solo: Pa; Insidan; Av. Music Inside the Language: the drama: Munnen-scen 1; Munnen-scen 2; Munnen-scen 3; Munnen-scen 4; Munnen-scen 5: Epilog-konklusion. CD2: Music inside the language – the trio: Spraksanger 1; En sonisk triptyk 1; Spraksanger 2; En sonisk triptyk 2; Spraksanger 3; Spraksanger 4; En sonisk triptyk 3; Music inside the Dialogue; Speldialog 110310. CD3: Borduna 58´20´´.


Sten Sandell: piano, voice (CD1#4-8, CD2#1-8), organ (CD1#4-8), electronics (CD1#4-8), sounds (CD3#1); Amit Sen: cello (CD2#7); Nina de Heney: double bass, voice (CD2#1-8); Sofia Jernberg: voice (CD2#1-8); David Stackenäs: guitar (CD2#9).

Album information

Title: Music Inside The Language | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: LJ Records



For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.


Elegy for Thelonious
Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble
Mendoza - Hoff - Revels
Marco Baldini
Hackney Diamonds (2CD)
Rolling Stones


Jazz Hands
Bob James
London Afrobeat Collective
Light Streams
John Donegan - The Irish Sextet

Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.