Guitarist Ulf Wakenius, who has performed with a number of jazz heavyweights from Oscar Peterson and Michael Brecker to Ray Brown and Jack DeJohnette, writes that his new release, Tokyo Blue, is designed to express the various aspects of his musical temperament, from sweetness to swing. The album is evenly divided between the two components, with five ballads and five medium- to up-tempo numbers, on each of which Wakenius shows his admirable versatility and technique.
Wakenius plays unaccompanied on Michel Legrand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life," Django Reinhardt's "Nuage" and a couple of film themes, Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" (from Modern Times ) and the love theme from Spartacus, and is teamed on half a dozen tracks with pianist Carsten Dahl, bassist Yasuhito Mori and drummer Morten Lund. The session was performed, Wakenius writes, with little rehearsal, as he placed his confidence in his partners, who don't let him down. Dahl is an especially capable soloist (although his humming along at slower tempos can be annoying), while he, Mori and Lund seem to anticipate Wakenius' every move.
Four of the ten selections ("Tokyo Blue," "Toronto 2 PM," Buenos Aires," "The New World") are Wakenius originals, none of which rises above the level of respectable. Certainly, they are no match for the songs already mentioned, nor for Ed Heyman/Oscar Levant's "Blame It on My Youth" or Cole Porter's "At Long Last Love." But they do provide a solid springboard for eloquent improvisations, largely by Wakenius and Dahl (with Mori heard to good advantage on "Buenos Aires").
The solo tracks may be too well-recorded, or perhaps I am in a minority in not wishing to hear every scrape, pop and click that comprise the by-product of the guitarist's artistry. On the other hand, Wakenius' guitar is often less prominent than it should be on the quartet numbers, which serves to even the score, I suppose. Wakenius is a splendid guitarist, and he and his colleagues play quite well together, and if there is nothing here that produces an indelible impression, neither is there anything that is less than rewarding.
Track Listing: Tokyo Blue; Smile; Toronto 2 PM; Blame It on My Youth; At Long Last Love; What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life; Nuage; Buenos Aires; The New World; Love Theme from Spartacus (51:54).
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