The Swedish jazz collective Jazzagenturen, founded by Pontus de Wolfe, reached deep into its collective soul and stood up to the downsides of the Covid-19 coronavirus early on. This large ensemble entered a studio on April 2nd. Twelve hours later they emerged having recorded fifty songs. The Stockholm Corona Sessions
are being released in five volumes, spread out through 2020. Gathering worldwide attention due to being both an unprecedented project and superb multi-ranged jazz recordings, Jazzagenturen was not seeking this kind of attention. Simply said, the band (like all other musicians) was facing an undetermined gig- less and income-less stretch. This was about feeding their families and paying the rent. It took on a life of its own partially due to the uniqueness of the project, but mostly because the music is both swinging hot and smolderingly heartfelt.
Often played with cheer, Duke Ellington
's "I Got it Bad (And That Ain't Good)" is treated here like the blues tune it was intended to be. Trumpeter Nils Janson cries out in anguish against the melancholy backdrop of the rhythm section. His despair heightens until at long last he is answered in kind by the somber and sympathetic tones of baritone saxophonist Fredrik Lindborg
. They are then left to contemplate while the piano trio (pianist Fredrik Hermansson
, drummer Konrad Agnas
, and double bassist Niklas Fernqvist
) take a gentle blues stroll. Lindborg then calls out in a more formidable manner with a dig that pulls at the heart. Their shared moment comes to a close with the binding influence of alto saxophonist Bjorn Jansson
underscoring Lindborg's sincere arrangement.
Next, the band take a run at Cedar Walton
's composition and arrangement of "Holy Land." A piano run, of course, by Leo Lindberg
. A light swing shifts into a classical take by Lindberg, that glides effortlessly (or so it would seem) back to the swinging groove. With drummer Moussa Fadera
and bassist Kenji Rabson
laying down a rock-solid foundation to bounce off, Lindberg is free to feel it and move with it at will from start to finish. He briefly turns the tables at one point, comping for Fadera & Rabson as they shine their own shoes, moving the bass and drums up front. In the end, it is Lindberg who truly shines by adeptly tuning in to Walton's mojo and adding his own welcomed spin.
"Dyningar," an elegant piece composed by Lars Gullin
, is punctuated by trumpeter Erik Palmberg
. It then builds into a swing with a sympathetic rhythm section (drummer Jonas Backman, and double bassist Martin Hoper providing the wind at Palmberg's back. Pianist Carl Bagge
solos brightly in many shapes and colors, with the rhythm section providing counterpoints. Palmberg flows against the same landscape, ultimately creating a delicate cloud of improvisational bliss in the closing minutes of Gullin's zestful arrangement.
In a sea awash with the everchanging tides of jazz treasures, Jazzagenturen cast one distinctly original song for this outing. "Langfredag" (which translates to Good Friday) has Nils Janson on trumpet, providing a quiet hushed tone at the outset. Tempered slowly by pianist, composer, and arranger Fredrik Hermansson and alto saxophonist Fredrik Lindborg, "Langfredag" has a well-expressed spirituality embedded within its serene undercurrent. A subdued, yet penetrating solo by alto saxophonist Bjorn Jansson is an embellishment to a journey in which Hermansson breathlessly affixes to level three from the start, and floats there for the duration. This has a beauty akin to the surreal moment in time one experiences in absorbing a painting for a noteworthy length of time.
The calm is awakened by a lively and bouncy take on Cole Porter
's classic, "What is This Thing We Call Love." Fronted by the swinging and explosive trumpet of Nils Janson, the Porter arrangement was adhered to with precision. As if patiently waiting in the wings for his turn, pianist Carl Bagge took full advantage of the spotlight with his own swinging jaunt. Peppered drum inserts by Jonas Backman alongside the piano gait made for a driving connection that pulsated throughout this smokin' ensemble effort, anchored by double bassist Palle Sollinger
. Billy Strayhorn
's "Chelsea Bridge" is crossed with soft brushes melding into the tender piano strokes of Leo Lindberg. The brush man, drummer Moussa Fadera, is again aligned with double bassist Kenji Rabson. And why not? They fit like a glove, are tightly woven, finish each other's sentences, or any number of other clichés of similar ilk you might want to throw their way. Lindberg's innate sensibilities allow him to gravitate along the bridge in a keenly gradual manner. This is a clinic of a jazz trio performance.
Stunning comes to mind in describing what happens next. You may be familiar with Grammy winning vocalist Isabella Lundgren
. If so, you know what to expect. Either way, you are in for a treat. Many years ago, songwriters Harold Arlen
and Yip Harburg took listeners to the far away land of Oz. The only way to get there was to go "Over the Rainbow." In a brilliant illustration of the power of music, legendary singer Judy Garland
took us there with her voice, her heart, and her wide-eyed innocence. The classic song has been performed thousands of times since in a myriad of styles and genres. Still it is Garland's magic that takes us beyond the clouds and deep into our hearts. Isabella Lundgren has perhaps done the impossible. She captures that earnest integrity and pureness of voice while adding just the right amount of phrasing to make it breathe an air of jazz distinction, without being overwhelming. She delightfully pays homage to Garland while still deftly performing in her own wheelhouse. Backed by pianist and arranger Carl Bagge, bassist Martin Hoper, and drummer Jonas Backman, Lundgren is awe inspiring.
A tumultuous blast of high energy Latin jazz would seem in order at this point. Room service delivered the spicy goods in the form of Cedar Walton's "Ojos de Rojo." The furious Latin pacing and flavorful rhythms are served up as if being shot out of a cannon. Not surprisingly the rhythm section was on fire throughout this mercurial barrage to our senses. Pianist Leo Lindberg is again joined by drummer Moussa Fadera and double bassist Kenji Rabson, as they were in the other Walton selection, "Holy Land." Lindberg simply blew doors from start to finish. The thought of congas, timbales, and more naturally come to mind in a tune of this nature. However, "Ojos de Rojo" is uniquely highlighted by the richness of Fadera's drumming on a traditional kit.
The album closes with Henry Mancini
's memorable "Moon River." An R & B singer side by side with an ardent jazz ensemble brings a different vibe to the mix. While the edge that singer Matilda Gratte
lays down is not jazz, nor is it intended to be, it presents a salient counterpoint to the jazz lines of the Carl Bagge led trio. Drummer Jonas Blackman and double bassist Palle Sollinger round out the trio and square up the multiplicity of both Gratte and trumpeter Nils Janson. The latter's sumptuous solo added to the complexity of this take, by filtering in yet another layer of richness.
The Stockholm Corona Sessions Volume One
is a bright spot in a time of darkness. The music is terrific. History will record the Covid-19 coronavirus period as a downtrodden time of quarantines, masks, joblessness, social distancing, and, well, boredom. Jazzagenturen's epic undertaking in no way erases any of that. It perhaps, though, writes another chapter in the same book that is uplifting. Early on, these many musicians came together, under the direction of producer Pontus de Wolfe, with both a song and compassion in their hearts. Recording fifty songs in a twelve-hour period took fortitude, drive, and heart. Three qualities that people around the world genuinely need right now.
I Got it Bad(And That Ain't Good); Holy Land; Dyningar; Langfredag; What is This Thing Called Love; Chelsea Bridge; Over the
Rainbow; Ojos de
Rojo; Moon River.