Jesper Thilo Quartet ‘Swing Is The Thing’ CD (Stunt) 4/5

Saxophonist and clarinettist, Jesper Thilo, has been an established presence on the Danish jazz scene for many years. So much so that he can now be regarded as an elder statesman. He is one of the top European musicians working in what has come to be regarded as a straight-ahead style of jazz with the accent heavily placed on swing. Something he has been doing since the late 1960s.

The early masters of the tenor saxophone such as Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins were amongst his early influences. Indeed, he had the opportunity to work with both. Later, he established a more personal sound something akin to that of Zoot Sims. His first recordings under his own name date from 1973. In the 1980s he was to be found working with established musicians from the USA including pianist Kenny Drew, trumpeter Clark Terry and Harry “Sweets” Edison. He also featured on Miles Davis’ 1985 recording ‘Aura’. 2012 saw the release of an album with fellow tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton ‘Scott Hamilton meets Jesper Thilo’. Consequently, he became a first-call musician for visiting American artists.

It was only one month prior to his 78th birthday that Thilo recorded this album in 2019. The accompanying conventional trio of piano, bass and drums are made up of musicians from the Danish jazz scene and they certainly swing. The pianist has a flavour of Oscar Peterson, which is certainly no bad thing. The repertoire consists of familiar jazz standards together with a traditional folk song. Thilo has been quoted as saying that “jazz is for grown-ups who want to tear a few hours out of their perhaps boring lives to have a little fun and hear something that they can concentrate on”. That just about sums up the music that you hear on this album. It’s feel-good music. It’s a mark of the group’s professionalism that the album was recorded live (but without an audience) in the studio without edits and other fixes over a period of three days.

It’s difficult to pick favourite tracks but “I Want to Be Happy” appropriately, is an exemplar of the album as a whole. “Just Friends” is also outstanding, given a treatment somewhat different from the classic Charlie Parker version. Ballads also feature and “I Can’t Get Started” is a mellow beauty. It was an inspired touch to include “Splanky” in a fine blues treatment; a theme which will always be associated with the Count Basie Band. “Rosetta” is a nod to the saxophonists of an earlier era which suits Thilo perfectly. The single traditional theme translates as “It Happened One Saturday Night” and fits perfectly with the remainder of the material on the album and show off the tenor player’s engagingly wide vibrato.

Jesper Thilo may not be a household name but if you like your jazz in a mainstream swing style, he is certainly someone to investigate.

Alan Musson