Johannes Gammelgaard Kvartett ‘I Venners Lag’ LP (Jaeger Community Music) 3/5

Traditions. Not always the first thoughts when listening to a new album. Johannes Gammelgaard likes his traditions and embraces them in every way possible for a modern ear both inside his own Denmark, the Swedish studio and musicians involved and beyond. To an English ear, we are in very new terrain throughout the nine compositions, comparing the possibility of blending modern jazz with pre-progressive folk of say Pentangle or Fairport Convention doesn’t fit the brief. No, it’s a blend that we Brits could easily tag ‘big band’ or even whisper “Morris dancing” over a pint of cider. Yes, there is also a little ‘Dixieland’ in the palette but without the customary trombones, banjos, handkerchiefs and sticks associated with the aforementioned. Hey but let’s not get over-enthusiastic about those pigeon holes for the music presented by the group is creative in all parts, whether it be through the sombre lows or the euphoric highs.

What one ‘expects’ is the inclusion of fiddle, which is absent here. The link between Danish folk music history and of its past with the likes of Evald Thomsen is pushed aside with the focus offered over to that of the other tradition in the accordion, played here with great gusto by guest musician Love Meyerson, noted in the past for his Marimba and Vibraphone playing. The added dynamics by Sweden’s Isak Hedtjärn (Fire! Orchestra) on metal clarinet, brings to this album a very specific style and individuality. The quartet itself consists of Johannes Gammelgaard Lauritsen from Denmark, the inspirational home during a period for Dexter Gordon and Kenny Drew, on tenor saxophone, and Sweden’s Karl Wallmyr on trumpet, Mauritz Agnas (part of a large musical family with three others featuring on new albums already this year) on double bass and Arild Wahl playing drums/percussion. They are on a quite individual path, not one you would associate with improvisation but one of structure and purpose. It’s understanding the group’s purpose that may be the challenge for the listener.

Danish artist, protestor and founder of the avant-garde Cobra movement, Asger Oluf Jørgensen (Jorn), who passed away in 1973, famed for his ‘Stalingrad’ work and the source for the album’s choice of abstract cover artwork in ‘Midsommerleg’, a 1945 pre-Tachisme style oil on canvas painting. There’s chaos in the painting which sums up the music therein. There is order and warmth. I see and hear nature, being drawn into the music as one might the art, never tiring of either experience, taking in both in equal measures but reassured by the melodies.

The quartet, now in their third year together, open with ‘Swedish Summer’, the summary of all those traditions and experiences as brass weave excitedly in front of Agnas’ structure, holding it back into the contemporary field before ‘Do Not Blame The Driver’ enters the story with regimental storytelling via near side drum tempo. ‘Small Margins’ then introduces our first accordion and clarinet combo. We are far closer to improv and the screeching clarinet is calmed by its accordion counterpart reminding these ears of say Aidan Shepherd rather than the likes of Richard Galliano – I can garner simulation with Hermeto Pascoal’s style as he draws on his own traditions too. We conclude Side A with ‘Far Out Of The Woods’ a bowed bass drone layers the way for accordion and clarinet while percussion and saxophone set the ambience. Moody, sombre, revealing, rewarding.

Side B opens with ‘A Song About Freedom’ with the quartet alone to drift in a rather more modern space and reflecting the south African jazz pattern encouraged by Wallmyr’s ability with trumpet. It befits its title. It urges one to take notice and raise awareness for whatever cause you to fight for and enriching the listener’s experience along the way. ‘Big Arm Movements’ and ‘In The Company Of Friends’ / ‘I Venners Lag’ further elaborate on the ‘idea’ behind the release. The latter, and the title track to the album, venturing into more trad than tradition. ‘Farmand Is So Nice’, with everyone now having a jolly good time together, is the party piece, smiling faces watch on as feet shuffle – still not a handkerchief in use – joyous and sunny. I bet there are a few Mariestads being swigged before a closing piece, ‘Philosopher Of The Wide Views’ takes the tempo back down for Gammelgaard’s quartet to shine on what is a debut like no other.

This release stands alone with fond memories by the leader reinterpreted into fresh ones for 2021 that may be a little difficult for some to embrace. It is a brave release and although not instant, the pleasure does reward the listener when enjoyed in full and with space to breathe.

Steve Williams