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.

Grace Kelly

The gloomy Friday weather did not deter a large crowd from enjoying every second of the elegant afternoon set by Erik Lindeborg Trio. The Stockholm-born pianist and composer drew upon his broad jazz repertoire for trio rather than his new large ensemble recording Time (Stockholm Jazz Records, 2010). Drummer Robert Ikiz told AAJ that he was so happy that Erik Lindeborg got the chance to play with his trio formation at the festival, saying "he really deserves it and he is no doubt one of the main future jazz musicians from this country. With his touch, feeling and great compositions, Europe and other parts of the world will be waiting for him soon, too!"

The second day of the festival also saw Courtney Pine bring a splash of color to the proceedings with a lively and entertaining hour of rootsy jazz. His energetic approach and lovable personality were ever-present and everyone seemed to enjoy his walk among the public during a solo. Things turned wonderfully mystical with the arrival of the Avishai Cohen Aurora project. The bassist has clearly progressed as a bandleader since his time with pianist Chick Corea, and he has forged a personal form of fusion, at once intriguing and exciting. The Aurora sound was one of folkloric Moorish elements overlaid with Ladino-style Spanish, Hebrew and English lyrics; going on the enthusiastic crowd reaction it didn't disappoint. The Nils Landgren Funk Unit is the stuff of festival legend in Scandinavia, and a huge crowd turned out to see the famed trombone player strut his stuff. While spared recitals of his recent album of funky versions from the ABBA catalogue, festival goers were treated to the presence of funk royalty in the shape of trombonist Fred Wesley. With a two-trombone frontline, the NLFU carried the party along with renditions of classic tunes by saxophonist Maceo Parker and some originals.

When guitarist John Scofield strolled out on stage on Saturday, June 11—dressed in an unremarkable shirt and a rather large jacket—he could have easily been mistaken for an old university professor. Judging from the welcome he got from the crowd ("the students," if you will), they wanted to thank him dearly for the inspiration he'd been so eager to pass on to them. It could also be said that this tour finds the now grey-bearded veteran on a special teaching mission.

The ensemble Scofield was presenting was called The Piety Street Band, named after the street in New Orleans where the guitarist recorded Piety Street (EmArcy, 2009). With the help of this great backing trio—among them, legendary bassist George Porter Jr.—the jazz-fusion master seemed determined to display his roots. Any skepticism there might have been about this project (we don't want our blues to sound academic do we?) was quickly swept away.

John Scofield

The professor has just the right amount of nuttiness to pull it off, approaching each solo with a passion that made it clear that school was out and a more spiritual place was in. The band played rocking versions of old gospel and blues tunes like "Let the Good Times Roll" and "Walk With Me," and even Hank Williams' "Angel of Death."

Plugged into an old Vox amplifier, Scofield's tone was fierce and clean, far from the chorus-drenched overdrive of his fusion heyday. The only disturbing thing was the amount of time he spent fooling around with a delay/loop machine.

There is something very admirable about the respect and curiosity Scofield still feels for the broad musical heritage of his country. In a particularly magic moment when the band suddenly jumped into Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze," it seemed as though Scofield was not a favorite professor after all, but a guitar-playing reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln.

Wayne Shorter

The early-evening headlining set by the Wayne Shorter Quartet was sober, to say the least. Reminiscent of the time when jazz took a deeply spiritual turn in the early '60s, the 90-minute appearance by this jazz legend was surprisingly introverted, and offered little to the eager festival crowd. None of the other musicians (pianist Danilo Pérez, bassist John Patitucci or drummer Brian Blade) were able to lift the mood, despite some creative soloing on what was essentially an introspective and somber moment that came just before that evening's festivities erupted, with the arrival of hip hop diva Missy Elliot.

[Editor's Note: Written in collaboration with Dan Hafstrom]

Visit Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin, Grace Kelly, Erik Lindborg, Courtney Pine, John Scofield and the Stockholm Jazz Festival on the web.

Photo Credits

Page 1, Venue: Jessica Engstrom

Page 1, Bobo Stenson: James Pearse

Page 1, Grace Kelly: Dan Hafstron

Page 2, Courtney Pine: Jessica Engstrom

Page 2, John Scofield: Dan Hafstrom

Page 2, Wayne Shorter: Dan Hafstrom


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