Jan Lundgren ‘The Ystad Concert – A Tribute to Jan Johansson’ (ACT) 4/5

jan-lundgrenOne of the all-time great European jazz albums was recorded in the mid-1960s by Swedish pianist, Jan Johansson, ‘Jazz på Svensk’ (‘Swedish Jazz’) whose life was tragically cut short in his prime and this and other Johansson recordings of the 1960s have been reviewed in this column previously. However, this excellent tribute truly does his work justice and brings a contemporary touch to matters while retaining the simple and beautiful melodies of the original compositions. It was actually recorded as part of the Ystad Sweden Jazz festival and if the town’s name rings a bell, then it is most likely to be connected to the various Wallender detective series which were set in this sleepy abode. Aiding the jazz musicians are the Bonfiglioli Weber String Quartet and their participation is wholly in keeping with the cross-genre approach that Johansson himself advocated.
In fact the original album alluded to was a duet between the pianist and bassist Georg Riedel, and Lundgren and company have done well in allowing the new versions to retain the intimate feel that permeated the very first readings with bassist Mattias Svensson being his principal collaborator in arms. The music of Jan Johansson was characterised by simple, yet beautiful melodies, and he should have become a major international figure. This homage contains elements of Swedish, Russian and Hungarian folk melodies, and interestingly it is the Russian ones on offer that impress the most. A light, swinging mid-tempo number such as ‘Kvällar i Moskvas förstäder’ has something of an Oscar Peterson influence in its execution while the haunting melody of ‘På ängen stod en björk’ repeats a gorgeous piano riff to stunning effect. In a slightly more uplifting and indeed playful mood, ‘Det vore synd att dö än’, comes across as a prototype Scandinavian tango with plucked strings conveying the exuberant feeling of downtown nocturnal Buenos Aires. In various places, the influence of Bach can be felt and heard and this is certainly the case on a piece such as the blues-inflected ‘Visa från Utanmyra’.

Stylistically, Lundgren is deeply rooted in the Jan Johansson tradition and the absence of any percussion frees up the pianist and bassist, and this in turn creates something of a floating sensation to the music with the subtle and restrained use of strings. The homage in fact serves as another tribute to a figure in Swedish jazz, namely flugelhorn and trumpter Bengt-Arne Wallin who passed away in 2015 in his late eighties.

Tim Stenhouse