Swedish azz presents: Eric Carlsson & All Stars | Volume One & Two | Not Two Records

nottwo records – vinyl

Mats Gustafsson – Altsaxofon, Barytonsaxofon, Live-Elektronik | Per-Ake Holmlander – Tuba, Cimbasso | Kjell Nordeson – Vibrafon | Dieb 13 – Grammofon, Live-Elektronik | Erik Carlsson – Drums

Recorded on September 9, 2011 in Wien (Austria) by Martin Siewert. Mixed by Martin Siewert and Dieb 13 and Mats Gustafsson in 2012. Produced by azz and Marek Winiarski. Cover design by Marek Wajda. Liner notes by Brian Morton. Photographs by Tuva Holmlander.

Side[a]: 1. Intro – Över Stock och Sten – Coda – 9:27 – LarsFarnlof (1942-1994) Side [b] Du Glädjerika Sköna – 7:32  – Jan Johansson (1931-1968)

Swedish azz presents: Eric Carlsson & All Stars | Volume One & Two | nottwo records

Photo by Tuva Holmlander

It’s the view from your window that counts.You’ll never get beyond it.

Italo Calvino has a story about his working-class hero Marcovaldo, who lives with his family in a cramped little flat, all of them in the same room, the room dominated by a big neon sign outside the window that shows the last four letters of a neon sign advertising brandy. Those kids grow up with ‘GNAC’ as their night-time reality, their dreamscape. We’re all like that. Some neighbouring structure, some inevitable narrowing of the perspective always leaves you with ‘GNAC’.

Would it be a limitation, or would it be a liberation to think for a time that this is all there was? A local view, a familiar angle, a straitness: all the things we tend to think of later as limiting. So we do what Marcovaldo’s kid does, and get out our catapults and bust those glowing letters so we can see the moon and stars beyond, the big lights far away. We know they’re there. We know their call and their glamorous shimmer, but they’re eclipsed or outshone. Isn’t that pretty much how many (most) of us experience music? As something first glimpsed through the narrow windows of a small collection of records, or a village band, or the guys that crank out the same half dozen songs in the bar downstairs. Only then realising that there is a much bigger world of sound out there. Suns and stars that shine on everyone rather than just beaming into one bedroom. And what we do, many (most) of us, is we slingshot into freedom, break out and away to the city and its sounds and to the feet of the very good and the very great, and we leave ‘GNAC’ behind forever, or think we do, in our vain belief that we now inhabit something bigger.

So how would it be to have grown up on ‘AZZ’, knowing it to be an elided and local form of something much larger, but unable for the moment to access that more expansive world? And more specifically and to the point, how much of a limitation would it be to ground yourself in Swedish azz, to a music being made around the time Italo Calvino was writing his Marcovaldo stories, in the late 50s, early 60s, and in a country far away from jazz’s homeland? The pragmatic answer to the question is that with the coming of the phonograph – something else Calvino touches on in his meditations on the technologies of memory – both distance and localism are banished. Records cross the ocean. Swedes listen to Charlie Parker and Chet Baker. The world is bigger and sonically richer.

But records are little ‘gnac’s. A sense of music gained only through records is a bit like conducting all your human relations through keyholes, even if those doors open onto something impossibly wonderful. It’s a dilemma and no one has ever been able to resolve it, even subjectively. Which was greater: the moment when the needle first dropped on ‘Au Privave’ or ‘Swedish Schnapps’, or the first moment you sat, without or without a Swedish schnapps in hand, and felt a musician’s breath on your face and the all-round impact and physical thrust of what we still call ‘live’ music, as if the other sort were dead or suspended. We almost all agree – leaving aside the studio purists and the club-going strict-con-structionists – that each is different and both important in its own way.

Swedish jazz has never quite allowed itself to smash the neon. To be continued at volume 2… — Brian Morton

Swedish azz presents: Eric Carlsson & All Stars | Volume One & Two | nottwo records

nottwo records – vinyl

Mats Gustafsson – Altsaxofon, Barytonsaxofon, Live-Elektronik | Per-Ake Holmlander – Tuba, Cimbasso | Kjell Nordeson – Vibrafon | Dieb 13 – Grammofon, Live-Elektronik | Erik Carlsson – Drums

Recorded on September 9, 2011 in Wien (Austria) by Martin Siewert. Mixed by Martin Siewert and Dieb 13 and Mats Gustafsson in 2012. Produced by azz and Marek Winiarski. Cover design by Marek Wajda. Liner notes by Brian Morton. Photographs by Tuva Holmlander.

Side [a] Umepolskan & Nybyggarland – [10:44] Berndt Egerbladh (1932-2004) | Side [b] Mäster – [8:14] Borje Fredriksson (1937-1968)

Swedish azz presents: Eric Carlsson & All Stars | Volume One & Two | nottwo records

continuation from volume 1 … and insist on celestial light.

The Swedes were lucky in that political neutrality and relative wealth allied with natural enthusiasm to lure over some of the greatest luminaries: Bird, Duke, Lady Day, Getz, Rollins, Miles, Trane. The magic of the records was always being confirmed in the flesh. But the Swedes were also peculiarly aware of their own heritage, the use of native themes and rhythms that Jan Johansson accidentally turned into an ideology on his Jazz pa svenska LP in 1962 – an ‘ideology’ because it unintendedly left a lot of outside critics thinking that all Swedish jazz was somehow unfashionably (at that time) tied up with folk – and which has remained an aspect ever since.

The genius of Swedish azz – the group is a collaborative one, run jointly by saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and tubist Per-Ake Holmlander (who also plays cimbasso), and with Eric Carlsson on drums, Dieb 13 on turntables and electronics, and Kjell Nordeson on vibraphone giving place to Jason Adasiewicz down the line – is that it willingly restores an element of ‘gnac’ to the perspective, ‘limiting’ itself to Swedish jazz themes of the 1950s and 1960s. That’s ‘genius’ in both the slightly overused honorific sense and more precisely in the sense of a defining logic and purpose. At first glance, this might look like another retro songbook project, a respite from the rigours and poor returns of avant-garde experimentalism and a retreat into repertory playing. Almost needless to say the saxophonist doesn’t work like that and what you get here is a body of themes by names that perhaps haven’t yet been fully assimilated internationally but performed with a rare improvisational freedom that doesn’t militate against respect. Music by the deceptively ethereal Berndt Egerbladh, by Lars Gullin, who does now enjoy posthumous recognition worldwide, by Jan Johansson, Georg Riedel, Per Henrik Wallin and others whose approaches may seem disparate but which come out of a very specific moment in musical and cultural time. Sweden’s unbroken neutrality and unviolated borders gave her a certain confidence that some have misinterpreted as complacency. These composers may have seemed severally to dilute or simply to ignore the work of great Americans. Fact was, they were alert to American musical language but able to apply to a distinctively Swedish experience that was, quite simply, different to the American source. And if folk themes and dances took the place of the blues and the Broadway song, so much the better for their distinctiveness as composers. So when Egerbladh creates a breathily lyrical sound, as on his great threnody to Gullin, one hears the debt to Chet Baker and possibly to Bill Evans, but without missing the originality and specificity of the influence.

Swedish azz is not a joke or a sideshow, as it might appear in a career as drivingly exploratory as Gustafsson’s. Nor is it merely a verbal game, playing with the derivations of jazz/jass/yazz. It is both homage and homecoming, a warm acceptance of the view from a small window on the world. It doesn’t take up slingshots or seek to knock down the neighbouring structures. It is accepting music, as rich and as heady as cognac. — Brian Morton

 

 

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