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Ulf Wakenius: Confessions of A Vagabond

Ian Patterson By
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Eight years on, Wakenius again pays tribute to the spirit of Svensson, and to Ostrom too, whose achingly beautiful ballad is the work of a talented composer who is beginning to carve out his own niche in the wake of e.s.t.'s sad demise with a couple of well received albums under his own name: "It's so beautiful," says Wakenius of Ostrom's "Ballad for E." "It's so clean and there's so much emotion in it. Magnus grew up with Esbjorn, they were childhood friends and he was devastated after the loss of Esbjorn. It took him a long time to start to play again and a long time to write homage, a ballad for his friend. I love it. I just had to record it."

Wakenius also pays touching tribute to guitarist John Scofield's son Evan Scofield, who died at the tragically young age of twenty six after a battle with sarcoma: "I'm quite close to John and this thing brought us even closer," relates Wakenius. "His son's ashes were spread around the world. He had some links to Sweden so John contacted me to take care of Evan's young widow when she came to Sweden to spread the ashes. He was twenty six. It was very moving."

Wakenius's tribute to Evan Scofield, "Requiem for a Lost Son," is a delicate, poignant piece: "I composed it from my heart and I felt it was proper," Wakenius says. "I recorded it and sent it to John [Scofield] and I told him I intended to put it out on my new CD. He and his wife were very happy. They felt honored, so it was a beautiful thing." For Wakenius music has a deeply cathartic role: "Music is life and death. A life without music is meaningless. It's very important because it can carry you through your life, in good and bad times. That's what I'm trying to indicate on this CD."

The music bug caught Wakenius fairly early on in life: "I started when I was eleven years old. Where I grew up in that little place outside Gothenburg there just happened to be a lot of guitar players who loved English blues, [singer/guitarist] John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, guitarist/singer] Eric Clapton and so on," relates Wakenius.

"For me, the contact with music was magic from the beginning. It was not about getting technical command of the instrument or playing fast. We sat outside on summer nights and jammed and this feeling that you could communicate with five or six other guitarists was just magical. I try to carry that feeling with me all the time in my life that it's never about work," Wakenius says. "It's just a blessing and you look for people who you can share this with. For me it was a magic thing when I met Youn [Sun Nah] because she has the same idea."

Nearly a decade after they first met and played together, Wakenius and Sun Nah have recorded three albums and formed a highly successful touring duo/quartet. "Momento Magico," which appeared on Sun Nah's Lento (ACT Music, 2013) is dedicated to the Korean singer: "I wanted to record a homage to her, for everything she's done for me," explains Wakenius. "I combined the influences of Brazilian chorino and Mozart and of course Youn takes it to another level."

Wakenius is well versed in Brazilian musical idioms, having recorded with Brazilian accordionist Sivuca in the mid-1980s and "Momento Magico" is based on multi-instrumentalist Egberto Gismonti's "Frevo," which Su Nah and Wakenius recorded on Voyage (ACT Music, 2009): "Yes, it's a homage to Gismonti and to [multi-instrumentalist] Hermeto Pascoal," Wakenius explains, "but mostly to Youn. I wrote it for Youn and I tried to find new angles for her to use her voice."

Wakenius recalls his first collaboration with Sun Nah in Seoul in 2005: "When we started to play the connection was instant. I have seldom heard a voice like that. The combination she has with her technical ability and her magic ability to get it out from the stage. Wow! This is something special. It's something else."

In an All About Jazz interview with Sun Nah in 2010, the singer credits Wakenius with providing the impetus to record together. Voyage was an instant success, musically and commercially: "We had a great chemistry," explains Wakenius. "It started there and it took off. When you play duo it can really be magical. You can't have telepathy in a quintet or a sextet because there are too many people and too many wills to be able to communicate fast but when we play it's like one person. If the sound is right it's just a magic ride. I'm blessed to experience it. It's very special."

With Sun Nah, Wakenius has played in South Korea numerous times since 2005 and he has grown very fond of the country and its people: "They're very open when they listen to music and there response is very direct," notes Wakenius. "It's been really fantastic to be able to be there on and off all the time for ten years."

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