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30.4.11

Dip Your Ears, No. 109 (Nordic Jazz)


available at Amazon
Johannesson&Schultz,
P.Johannesson, M.Schultz et al.
Prophone 109
(available from Amazon.co.uk)
available at Amazon
What's New,
Lars Jansson
Prophone 109
(available from Amazon.co.uk)
Record reviewing is an unthankful business and difficult enough even if you know your way around the repertoire very well. Reviewing music that you merely like, but are not an expert in, is even worse… you feel lost at sea – and even if you don’t, the know-it-alls (who, frustratingly, really do tend to know better), are just around the internet-corner, ready to snap at your heels. Ironically, the sole gratifying aspect about CD reviewing is doing it as a way to make yourself listen to music that you are not familiar with, because it broadens the mind and bears many a happy surprise.

That is why I consented to have two Jazz CDs sent to me by an on-line magazine's editor, even though I am merely a jazz listener, not an expert. To judge my response, it might be helpful where I come from when it comes to jazz – and how to respond to it. My Jazz tastes are fairly universal and within that wide swath solidly ordinary. I came to Jazz via Keith Jarrett. That was quickly expanded Jacques Loussier and then to the classics (Miles, Coltrane, Gillespie, Peterson, Brubeck, Evans, Parker et al.). Eventually I added Acid Jazz. I pretended to dislike Wynton Marsalis until I had a feisty back and forth with him; now I appreciate his intense professionalism. Occasionally I get to attend a Jazz Festival – the Jazz Festival Alto Adige, most recently, where my ears where opened to the sounds of trumpeter-composer Matthias Schriefl. In Washington DC, I’ve always had a particular hankering for contemporary Scandinavian jazz at the Blues Alley and beyond. Part of my menial post-college labor included serving drinks in a seedy, rinky-dink Jazz Club in Georgetown. I don’t mind quality crooners (Diana Krall for the most part, Jamie Cullum not really), and I will listen to pretty much anything that appears on the ECM label. I would like to think that "Ascension" is John Coltrane's masterpiece, but I don't really get it.

These likes are reflected in the two CDs I picked: Going solely by name, I went for Lars Jansson’s “What’s New” and the self-titled “Johannesson & Schultz”, both on the (unknown, to me) Prophone label. Both sounded promisingly Scandinavian (they’re Swedish), and they would going to be my soundtrack for a few relaxing, fully wholesome evenings in Oslo. It’s not the most sophisticated way to chose your jazz, admittedly, but in this case I hit the bull’s eye, twice.

Peter Johannesson (drums) and Max Schultz (guitar) form a quartet with Bobo Stensson (piano) and Martin Sjöstedt (double bass). The Herbie Hancock influenced musicians composed thirteen songs for this disc (a 14th covers the Coltrane’s “Impressions”), eight of which are by Schultz, four by Johannesson, and one by Sjöstedt. The results are on the mellow side of the jazz divide, varying along and within a reasonable (meaning: never gratuitous), very organic bandwith of excitability… from the placid “Footloose” to the driven “The Force”. In “Too Simple”, Schultz’s e-guitar sound and the hummable, memorably melodic tune he finds, could be straight out of John Scofield. “Big McKee”, along similar lines, wouldn’t be out of place in a Mike Stern recording. This guitar sound doesn’t dominate every track, but it’s the most—literally—outstanding quality. Unfussy listenability, over and over and over again, is the gratifying musical result.

Lars Jansson’s sound on his disc of standards reminded me straight away of the Tord Gustavsen Trio, if with some of the Norwegian group’s distinct flavor traded in for a touch of hotel bar sentimentality… that presumably being in the nature of a disc just with standards. (As someone with a distinct distaste for most trashy hotel bar muzak, I should add that in this case it is meant in no pejorative way at all.) The trio for “What’s New” consists of Jansson on piano, his son Paul Svanberg on drums, and Thomas Fonnesbæk on bass; they work their way through “Love Man”, “The Masquerade is Over”, the crooning-laconic “Hilda Smiles”, and seven further tracks with a Be and a Bop, a spring in their step, and Keith-Jarrettish humming over the harmonies.

My concluding response to a live gig of the Tord Gustavsen Trio five years ago is just as appropriate as the final remark for these two discs: “This is [a broadly popular] kind of jazz—well behaved, stylish, and beautiful—which also means it's not for everyone: If your favorite record is Miles Davis’ Live at the Newport, you won't be impressed. If you like intelligent and lyrical late-night jazz, make either of [these] records your next.