Review: Ystad 2014, first concerts

Michael Tucker reviews the first concerts at Ystad Sweden Jazz, the friendly and varied festival in Skåne now in its fifth year and developing world-class momentum as its profile and audiences expand

Following the intimate pianism of Birgit Lindberg and Monica Dominique (sister of Palle Danielsson), the multi-faceted goals of Argentinian Lily Dahab and the spectacular evening audio-visual performance at the harbour by pianist Stefan Rusconi’s trio and the Sardine Sauvage dance group, Ystad 5 moved seamlessly into its second day with a fine performance by Isabella Lundgren (pictured right) and the Carl Bagge Trio.

Held at the beautiful outdoor venue Per Helsas Gärd, just off the bustling pedestrianised mainstreet, the set began and ended on the upbeat notes of Accentuate The Positive, and I Can’t Give You Anything But Love. The heart of the set lay in an intense, introspectively-cast sequence of a blues, a spiritual and a meditation on the text from Ecclesiastes, There Is A Time For Everything - the last realised in a spare, deeply affecting duet with Bagge. There was also a fine rendition of Somehow Life Got In The Way before this intriguing singer - currently studying theology - referenced Kierkegaard in a spoken preface to a fine rendition of The Glory Of Love.

All in all, Lundgren’s set offered appropriate prelude to the lunchtime concert in the beautiful Santa Maria Kyrka where pianist Anders Ekdahl and his seven-piece band joined forces with the Eva Ekdahl chamber choir to offer stirring versions of some of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts material for choir, jazz orchestra and a soprano soloist. There may be some who wonder if the "wonder of God" is best sensed when set to a triplet beat but in common with the rest of the packed audience I found much to relish in what was at times a moving experience. Choir and jazz group meshed well throughout, with a variety of perspectives on the freedom theme and Come Sunday outstanding.

Spirituality without overt religiosity was at the heart of three terrific concerts at Ystad’s prime venue, the neo-classical theatre near the harbour on the west side of town. Danish drummer Marilyn Mazur trained as a dancer and there has always been much of the visual in her performances. Integrating an extraordinary range of percussive effects with tasty drumming, she led a fine band with Swedish vocalist Josefine Cronholm (vocals), John Taylor ( piano) and Anders Jormin (bass) - pictured left. The performance of this Celestial Circle continued the Ystad tradition of featuring at least one act of an ECM persuasion: the group’s first album was released by ECM in 2010. The set ranged from spacious, rubato, chamber-music inflected intensity, with Jormin supplying some lovely ringing harmonics and subtle nudging figures to upbeat ostinato-driven excursions into world music territory with Mazur at times joining Cronholm on vocals very effectively. Cronholm herself was a revelation as her improvised, wide-ranging vocalese took on near Shamanic dimensions, while Taylor wove crisply articulated melody, harmony and rhythm as only he can.

There was just time to catch a suavely turned modern mainstream set from trumpeter Björn Ingelstam’s Quartet at the elegant Scala film theatre before the two concluding concerts back at Ystads Teater. Ingelstam impressed, especially on one number where he gave a blithe vocal reading of Almost Like Being In Love prior to some accomplished choruses on Harmon mute.

Modern mainstream of a different order was served up in an electrifying concert by the Joshua Redman Quartet with the leader’s literate potency on tenor complemented by Aaron Goldberg (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Gregory Hutchinson (drums). At times reminiscent of the ever-fluent Hank Mobley but with a touch of Texan weight to his sound, Redman led his ultra-tight band (in Ystad capping a 30-day tour) through a stunning set of original and intelligently arranged material. Among many highlights were a superlative reading of Stardust and the burning ride-out on Dizzy Gillespie's Be-Bop that supplied the encore to a concert that had the audience shouting for more and more.

Throughout the set Redman came across as an elegant and appreciative guest of the festival, offering several clearly heartfelt tributes to the stunning location that is Ystad. In contrast Charles Lloyd was content to let his tenor and metal flute do the talking in conjunction with a terrific trio of Gerald Clayton (piano), Joe Sanders (bass) and Justin Brown (drums). The music began in familiar late Coltrane territory with Brown’s mallets helping roll out the rubato carpet over which Lloyd soared. There were also passages however of lightly dancing flute, many a mile from the Coltrane aesthetic. This diversity combined with the amount of room Lloyd gave his young associates to stretch out in sometimes lyrical, sometimes fiercely burning manner made for an excellent concert to conclude the day.

I say conclude, but for those of stronger stamina a jam session followed at the Bryggeriet bar and restaurant at which the tireless Redman performed for another hour or so with first-class local rhythm sections and soloists, the meeting recalling and surely matching the inspirational conjunctions of American and European musicians in Scandinavia of decades past.

With thanks for Ystad 2014 photography to Markus Fågersten

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