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Stockholm Jazz Festival 2010

James Pearse By

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Stockholm Jazz Festival 2010
Skeppsholmen, Stockholm, Sweden
June 10-12, 2010

The central island of Skeppsholmen was, once again, the ideal location for the Stockholm Jazz Festival (SJF). Running since the early 1980s, the event has attracted some of the biggest names in not only jazz but also pop, rock, soul and hip hop, with previous guests including Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, B.B. King, Mary J. Blige, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Kanye West, Steely Dan and Patti Smith. While clearly not a strictly-jazz festival, the SJF is a well-organized and well-structured three-dayer, filled with new and established artists and set against a backdrop of the wonderful harbor of Sweden's capital city. The 2010 edition has been expanded to include three stages for the first time, which created even more program time and actual spaces to fill with names big and small.

One of the more-anticipated acts of the weekend was singer Gretchen Parlato, who was described by none other than fellow festival guest, saxophonist Wayne Shorter as a truly gifted artist. The famed tenor saxophonist claimed that, "in an inconspicuous way, Gretchen Parlato knows how to play the same instrument that Frank Sinatra played. There's no one out there like Gretchen." The New York-based singer appeared in Stockholm on Thursday, June 10, 2010, the opening day of the festival, with a quartet formation and a handbag full of jazz and pop tunes. While her sultry style and dulcet tones added little to the repertoire, it was her ancestry that attracted attention from the press here in Sweden. An English-language website in Stockholm noted how "her maternal grandfather Caleb Frisk grew up in Hassela, southwest of Sundsvall, and moved to Chicago when he was in his 20s. He was a recording engineer who built his own studio at home and recorded The Beatles and Ella Fitzgerald."
Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson and bassist Anders Jormin have grown up musically together, and have played in countless smaller and bigger groups over the last thirty years. When experiencing Stenson's trio in a live setting it's difficult not to feel touched by the fact they are actually growing old together.

Fortunately, Stenson and Jormin kneww how to keep things interesting. With their characteristic playfulness, they jumpstarted the show with a piece by Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodriguez. Right in the middle of a Stenson solo, the piano and bass suddenly locked together, taking off in a whirlwind of synchronicity and forcing the audience to hold its breath. Bandleader Stenson's technique was as spectacular as his down-to-earth persona was certainly not. During a piece by Danish composer Carl Nielsen, Stenson built cloudlike sculptures of sound, with chords floating on top of each other and out into the approaching Stockholm night.

In the hands of the Viking-like Jormin the upright bass proved capable of a sonic poetry normally associated with other instruments. Impressive is the only way to describe how he soloed in the high register, while still holding on to a deep groove. Drummer Jon Fält was the youngster of the group and added both humor and spontaneity. His playing effectively deconstructed the kind of macho musicianship that many other jazz drummers represent.

The music that 18 year-old saxophonist and vocalist Grace Kelly displayed could easily be labeled cocktail jazz or even easy listening. Despite the material being provocatively unchallenging, it would be foolhardy to deny her talent, which was as hard as a diamond, and her performance shone as brightly as the purple dress she wore onstage. She seemed able to do whatever she wanted in a musical sense, and her voice and saxophone were only too happy to help her along. In fact, listening to her brought to mind none other than the late trumpeter/vocalist Chet Baker, as Kelly shared his divinely effortless manner in the way that she expressed herself.


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