In a career spanning almost three decadesher first release, Close
(Prophone), with Esbjorn Svensson
, dates from 1993 vocalist, composer and arranger Lina Nyberg
has worked with many of the finest musicians in the Swedish jazz scene to create a truly formidable body of work. Nineteen albums later, her creativity shows no signs of abating. In fact, with The Clouds
, a project featuring a tentet of first-rank colleagues, Nyberg is poised to reinforce her place at the vanguard of chance-taking European jazz musicians.
Nyberg's prior offering, Terrestrial
(Hoob, 2018), a two-CD release with the NorrlandsOperan Symphony Orchestra, was the third installment in a trilogy exploring various facets of humanity's relationship with the planet. While possessing more modest conceptual aims, The Clouds
may be all the more effective for its more concentrated potency. The album's nine tracks are ideal vehicles not only for Nyberg's usual bold vocal delivery, but just as important, they make splendid use of the fantastic musicians joining her. Nyberg's regular band is here: pianist Cecilia Persson
, guitarist David Stackenäs
, bassist Josef Kallerdahl
and drummer Peter Danemo
provide the rock-solid foundation to Nyberg's music that they have forged for years. But the additional members of the group are especially well-chosen, with fellow Swedes Karin Hammar
(trombone), Per Texas Johansson
(flute) and Fredrik Ljungkvist
(clarinet) joining Susana Santos Silva
(trumpet) and Alberto Pinton
(bass clarinet)the latter two the only musicians on the album not hailing from Sweden, but no matter, as their contributions here are invaluable.
Accompanied by Sweden's Bohuslän Big Band for the album's opener, "The Clouds," Nyberg uses fragments of Virginia Woolf's writings as the backbone of a ten-minute piece that is by turns moody and brash. It has all the characteristics of Nyberg's vocal style: an earnest hopefulness mixed with a bit of insouciance and a good deal of self-assertion. The additional horns on offer from the Bohusläm ensemble lend the track an almost orchestral sweep, and abundant open space leavens the piece's surging intensity.
The subsequent tracks are even better. "The Advisor" starts with a traditional swing feel, Nyberg's saucy quips taking issue with those providing unwanted advice, and it's a tight and bouncy arrangement, until the band gets room to loosen the reins a bit, with Hammar's fleet trombone solo seeming to ignite the other horns behind her. It's a crackling arrangement, a testament to Nyberg's ability to craft a fine mid-sized band chart. And for sheer show-stopping power, witness "Std. Stop," an up-tempo burner, where Santos Silva's fierce trumpet is a stunning presence, both in shadowing Nyberg's vocals and in unleashing what may be the most memorable solo on the record, moving from razor-sharp precision to atonal smears, while the rest of the band somehow manages to match her intensity.
But Santos Silva isn't alone in getting an opportunity to step out front. Nyberg's rumination on her father's death and legacy, "The Bone Barrow Gardens," is a searching eight-minute exploration that begins reflectively but soon picks up the pace under a dynamically expressive clarinet solo from Ljungkvist, and not to be outdone is Alberto Pinton, whose sinuous bass clarinet enlivens the jaunty "Vancouver." Each of Nyberg's pieces is crafted to draw from the distinctive personalities and strengths of each musician. Indeed, it's easy at times to forget that this is a "vocal album," so cohesively are these instrumentalists conjoined to Nyberg's own musicianship. The finest example may be the eleven-minute "Circle Song," built around a catchy ostinato riff that expertly blends Nyberg's abstract musings with superb ensenble writing, allowing the band to take flight collectively.
Both innovative and highly engaging, The Clouds
is one of Nyberg's best recordings yet. No one would be surprised if she has another twenty still to come.
The Clouds; Introduction: (The Advisor); The Advisor; Std. Stop; Humankind; The Bone Marrow
Gardens; Vancouver; The Circle Song; Cloud Gazing.
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