After Wallander, a jazz triumph for Ystad

The second Ystad jazz festival in southern Sweden drew to a close this weekend, doubling sales but holding firm to its director's vision of a festival where jazz doesn't “fall to the background”

Report by Mark Gilbert
Photos by Dick Lindström

More coverage by Michael Tucker here

Jan LundgrenAt a time when venerable major jazz festivals around the world - driven, they claim, by economics - are incorporating increasing numbers of artists that stretch jazz's generously elastic stylistic hospitality to breaking point, the second Ystad jazz festival in southern Sweden proved this long weekend (4-7 August) that you can be economically viable and grow rapidly without making concessions to commerciality.

The festival programme was conceived under the direction of Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren (pictured right), a resident of Ystad and prominent on the international scene since the mid 1990s. After being discovered by bebop legend Arne Domnérus, Jan played with other Swedish stars such as Putte Wickman and Bernt Rosengren and was sideman to the Americans Johnny Griffin, Benny Golson, Herb Geller and James Moody.

In contrast to many other jazz festivals, at Ystad the compacted programming and proximity of venues creates a genuine sense of community occasion. This wasn't a concert series but a four-day event that packed in concerts throughout the day at venues within easy walking distance of each other and all in a picturesque setting.

The earliest concert of the long weekend (4-7 August) was at 0800 - Frukostjazz med Bemsha (Breakfast with Bemsha) - for which 17 tickets had been sold by the previous evening. However, such is the town's commitment that by opening time it was standing room only. Concerts ran consecutively through the day, so there was no problem with clashes or missed concerts.
Venues ranged from the town's 19th century neo-classical Ystads Teater to the Fritidsparken park, to cafés and to the seafront Ystad Saltsjöbad hotel. There were also two concerts appropriately matched to the hallowed setting of the town's 17th century Sankta Maria church, one by the shamanically-flavoured Finno-Norwegian trio Kuára and the other by Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski, sideman to trumpeter Tomasz Stanko. 

Bengt HallbergThe theatre was host to most of the headline events. Among these were the veteran Swedish pianist Bengt Hallberg (right), who played a solo set after some years away from serious performance to a rapturous reception. Later the same day, local hero Bobo Stenson brought his trio to the theatre and received a standing ovation and a rendition from the audience of Happy Birthday on the occasion of his 67th birthday – he didn't look over 50 and seems to get younger every year.

The same evening, a tribute to pianist Oscar Peterson and Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen brought together a quartet mixing generations and locations in Scandinavia. The legendary Danes Alex Riel and Mads Vinding were joined by Danish pianist Niels Lan Doky and Swedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius in a set of tunes written by or associated with the renowned duo.

Lan Doky, dapper in a suit and suggesting a cross between André Previn and Jamie Cullum, led the group through Moten Swing and Bags' Groove, adding his own harmonic colour to the tunes. NHØP tributes followed, touching on the bassist's jazz interpretations of folk, including I Skovens Dybe Stille, which Lan Doky translated as Tranquility In The Woods.

OP TributeAs in the original, the melody fell to Vinding's bass, which, soft of tone and melodic of content, happily had a prominent role throughout the concert and working in perfect tandem with Riel's drums showed the fruits of their long partnership in jazz.

Guitarist Wakenius, who worked with Peterson for a decade, applied his rich, bluesy stylings in ensembles and also played an engaging solo piece segueing from Jobim to bluesy riffs and back again. As with Stenson, a standing ovation followed the concert. In fact I didn't see a single band or performer get away without playing one or two encores to the warmly receptive and effusive audiences.

Jan Lundgren brought his light touch, quicksilver technique and consistently creative phrasing to two concerts at the festival, most notably on Friday night in a knockout meeting with Florida-born now Swedish resident singer LaGaylia Frazier and her father Hal, who was invited specially from the US. The result was some of the most flawlessly musical, exciting and moving music of the weekend, not only from the powerfully soulful voices but in Lundgren's delicate, always fresh interpretations, exemplified by his riveting reinvention of 'Round Midnight.

LaGayliaLaGaylia (right) is a real find and ought not to be confined to any one location in the world. After Lundgren's reflective solo piano introduction she took command of song and audience in a rendition of Fats Domino's I'm Walkin', and didn't let go all evening. Minutes and then over an hour fled by as the audience was enchanted by her enormous vocal range, agile phrasing, fearsome soul-jazz power and dynamic physical performance.

The cynic might have suspected stagecraft and this was indeed a pro at work but it was impossible to detect an ounce of insincerity in gesture or sound. There seemed no limit to the range of expression she could draw forth – not only on belters but also on lyrical pieces such as Jean, an old tune discovered by Lundgren or a French ballad, where, though musically exposed, she didn't put a foot wrong.

There were familiar routines, but they could have been invented right there that night, so fresh was LaGaylia's delivery. The audience were treated to further delights when father and daughter drew out maximum emotion in a duet on the closing Shadow Of Your Smile (before the encore, of course). This set was surely the highlight of the festival.

The same evening, Pat Martino, looking like the Lee Van Cleef of jazz guitar in his drainpipe trousers and Chelsea boots, appeared with an all-star US group featuring Eric Alexander (tenor), Harold Mabern (piano), Nat Reeves (bass) and Joe Farnsworth (drums).

This was full-on New York style bebop and could have benefited from a little more dynamic variation, which came in parts in Martino's solo on 'Round Midnight. Having said that, this is what they do and it wouldn't be New York any other way. One had only to bathe in the power, the presence of legends and, particularly for guitarists, Martino's intensely chromatic playing.

Pat MartinoTunes included the perennial Four On Six by Martino's main man Wes Montgomery and Impressions, the tune that floored the guitar world when Martino (right) did it on Consciousness, his 1974 album for the Muse label. That precision and power may be diminishing slightly with advancing age but then again it was midnight by the time they hit that tune and Martino was on a two-day jetlagged round trip out of NY.

Harold Mabern's piano playing was another highlight of the gig. He's a hard hitter, often redolent of McCoy Tyner, and he often brought an inventive, humorous variety to his lines. Eric Alexander warmed to his task as the evening drew on. Jacket off, he spun out long bop and modal lines showing the inspiration of Sonny Rollins and his special mentor George Coleman.

Other concerts featured a broad variety of music hewing close to the jazz tradition, including the Sanbornish jazz-funk of the Sofi Hellborg Gang (with the Robben Ford styled guitarist Magnus Lindeberg, an impressive product, like many other young performers here, of the Malmö Academy of Music) and the duo of trombonist and singer Nils Landgren and guitarist and singer Johan Norberg in jazz interpretations of standards and pop tunes.

At the other end of the spectrum, modern European practitioners such as pianist Enrico Pieranunzi improvising on Scarlatti, and the Stefano Bollani trio presenting music from its Stone In The Water album, filled out the stylistic palette of the festival.

The mainstream wasn't overlooked either. The octagenarian Toots Thielemans brought the warm Euro-American sounds of his harmonica and European Quartet to the theatre, and on the closing evening, the Scott Hamilton and Jesper Thilo Quintet gave a stirring and authentic picture of the tenor battles of the Jazz At The Philharmonic series of the 1950s.

The festival finale was accordionist Richard Galliano's La Strada Quintet featuring Dave Douglas, John Surman, Boris Kozlov and Clarence Penn in a tribute to Nino Rota. This was delightfully dynamic music, strong on pulse and Latin colour and harmony and with tremendous solos from all, not least the spectacular Dave Douglas. This was only the second performance of this music (the first at Marciac a day or two before) and Galliano brings it to the London Jazz Festival in November - one not to miss.

There was a joyous looseness and abandon about the music that took the listener right back to the roots of jazz, evincing the links between European bal musette and march and New Orleans. To underscore the impression, the band trooped out still playing one-by-one. Galliano's band was another festival highlight and the perfect closing celebration to the weekend.  
In all this year's festival packed in 33 concerts against 15 last year and sold 6800 seats against last year's 3000. The energy, organisation and promotion of the festival suggest that its reputation and profile around the world will grow, and the organisers are conscious of its potential. Festival president Thomas Lantz said: “We have a clear goal: to make Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival one of the most prominent festivals of the North.”

This international outlook is underlined by the careful designation of the event as the “Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival” in concert announcements, especially those for events that were broadcast on Swedish national radio, such as the Pat Martino & Eric Alexander Quintet and Jan Lundgren Invites Youn Sun Nah, Peter Asplund and Arild Andersen. Jan Lundgren also made a point of using Swedish and English in equal proportions in his announcements.

It's already being clearly noticed abroad. Although audiences were mostly Swedish, there was a significant overseas presence. One Japanese lady had bought tickets online from the festival website and travelled alone 20 hours by air to Copenhagen before taking the one-hour train ride across to Ystad. On arrival she found all accommodation was sold. The resourcefulness of the organisers came into play and she was put up in the marketing director's spare room.

With such heartwarming commitment and generosity of spirit the Ystad jazz festival is surely guaranteed a bright future. Its development will also bring dividends for the growing tourist trade in what has been called "the Provence of Sweden". Yes, and the weather was fine, bar a spot of rain here and there.

More information at the festival website
More photos here


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Your Comments:

Posted by Liz, 19 August 2011, 11:16 (1 of 4)

Really enjoyed the review - sounds a great festival. Have made a date in my diary, 2-5 Aug. 2012.

Posted by Dick, 19 August 2011, 11:23 (2 of 4)


Read your report! Super! Really good. I managed to finish the webalbum today - on this link you find all the pics at the festival's facebook.

Regards, Dick

fotograf dick lindström i Ystad
Stora Östergatan 31
271 34 Ystad

Posted by Itta, 19 August 2011, 11:34 (3 of 4)

Thank you Mark for your warm and kind words in your article! Have a safe trip home and welcome back next year - 2-5 August. Hugs! Itta

Posted by Christoph Giese, 22 August 2011, 14:52 (4 of 4)

hi mark, nice article!!! and nice to meet you in ystad.

Here´s a link to my first article -plus pictures- about the festival (sorry, it is all in german!!):

hope to see you again somewhere... and i hope your trip back to the UK was at least a liitle bit without rain!

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