Jazz: Young, gifted and Swedish
Wednesday 10 February 1999
AS HE rather sheepishly admitted in his introductions, there is a note of fraudulence about trumpeter Anders Bergcrantz and his quartet appearing in the Swedish Jazz Extravaganza, an event which is dominating the jazz calendar in London this week. Two members of the band come from Denmark.
On a freezing night in Barnes, though, all four men seemed quite at home, and the soberly-dressed group warmed up a curious audience with unapologetic vigour. Bergcrantz, like most of the leading young voices in European jazz, is scarcely known here, but his several records - mostly on the Stockholm-based Dragon label - are full of bountiful music, and this London debut was an unassumingly exciting occasion.
It's a daring thing for a trumpeter to lead a rhythm section by himself, without the valuable prop of a second horn player as confidante and balance, but one never missed another voice, so graceful and inventive was the leader's playing. If his albums suggested a cutting, sometimes curt intensity, in person he consistently took a more measured line without surrendering the incendiary quality which is a trumpeter's birthright. Opening with "Invitation", a sophisticate's choice of standard, he respectfully set out all the contours of the melody before building a long, complex, but logical improvisation out of it.
That was the pattern for the night, with solo space generously allotted and the players consistently justifying their time. Pianist Carsten Dahl uses a compendium of styles that he melds together so forcefully that one forgets about the derivations and enjoys his infectious brio. Kaspar Vadsholt is the antithesis to the doggedly laidback bassman role. A frenzied puppet of a man, he animated the bandstand by himself. Drummer Peter Nilsson - the other authentic Swede - refused to take any solo limelight, but frequently beat six-dozen bells out of his kit. They do nothing that jazz hasn't already heard before, but they certainly remind you as to why it is still able to sound so exciting.
A slight figure, Bergcrantz gets a smooth and unruffled sound out of the horn, and he's in the tradition of the legato melodists of hard bop, such as Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw. A flugelhorn ballad called "I Won Her Heart" was all shining sweetness. But "Marie Antoinette", a rarely exposed Wayne Shorter tune, was about as severe and abstract as hard bop can get, and they played "Impressions" at a tempo as fast as anyone's ever done it, and it proved itself a superb piece of brinkmanship by the whole band.
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