by Ian Mann
January 02, 2020
A refreshingly cliché free slice of contemporary Scandinavian piano jazz, skilfully merging acoustic and electronic sounds on an intriguing mix of original compositions.
Daniel Karlsson Trio
“Fuse Number Eleven”
(Brus & Knaster)
Daniel Karlsson – piano, keyboards, percussion
Christian Spering – double bass, cello
Fredrik Rundqvist – drums, percussion
In November 2019 I enjoyed a live performance at the Left Bank Village complex in Hereford by this trio led by the Swedish pianist and composer Daniel Karlsson.
The event was the first of a brand new jazz programme at the venue which will see major British names such as saxophonists Xhosa Cole, Iain Ballamy and Mark Lockheart and drummer Clark Tracey visit the city in early 2020. The Hereford gigs will be part of ‘regional tours’ organised by Phil Rose of Birmingham Jazz, the creator of the West Midlands Jazz Network, a consortium of jazz promoters across the Midlands.
Sadly the Karlsson performance was rather poorly attended, with local flooding problems conspiring with the fact that this was the first gig of the series to keep the numbers down. It’s also possible that the close geographical proximity of the other venues on these ‘regional tours’ spreads the potential audience too thinly.
Nevertheless the music itself was excellent and I was able to speak with Daniel and his colleagues afterwards. I’m indebted to Daniel for providing me with a review copy of the trio’s latest album, from which the majority of the material at Hereford had been sourced, for review purposes.
Prior to the Hereford show I was already familiar with Karlsson’s playing from his work as a sideman with other Swedish groups. He is a member of the still ongoing band Oddjob, a group once signed to the prestigious German label ACT for whom they released the albums “Sumo” (2008) and “Clint” (2010). In 2010 I enjoyed a sold out performance by Oddjob, featuring Karlsson, at London’s Vortex Jazz Club as part of that year’s London Jazz Festival.
Karlsson has also been a member of the quartet led by former E.S.T. drummer Magnus Ostrom and appeared on Ostrom’s excellent 2016 album “Parachute”. Review here;
Besides his work with Oddjob and the Ostrom band Karlsson has also collaborated with trombonist Nils Landgren and with vocalists Rigmor Gustafsson and Viktoria Tolstoy, other artists associated with the ACT label.
Since 2013 he has led his own trio, recording for the Swedish label Brus & Knaster. The group has been both prolific and successful with “Fuse Number Eleven” representing their sixth album release. Their previous offerings have attracted a compelling amount of critical acclaim and resulted in a number of awards in their home country. The trio has also enjoyed regular airplay in Italy, Germany, the UK and Ireland, accruing a dedicated following in all of these countries.
This latest recording features Karlsson’s compositions exclusively but each of the pieces is arranged by the trio as a whole, suggesting that the group is actually a highly democratic and interactive unit. The use of both acoustic and electronic sounds reveals the obvious influence of E.S.T. but the band is still essentially an acoustic piano trio, and one that has developed a strong group identity of its own.
The atmospheric opener “Principio” features gentle acoustic piano arpeggios and melodic double bass above a subtle backwash of wispy electronica and filigree percussion.
The title track – yes it is actually an ode to a fuse – features a deep, powerful bass groove, but there’s still an unmistakably Nordic air of wistfulness and melancholy about the music as Karlsson’s acoustic piano dovetails with Spering’s melodic bass. There’s also a Jarrett-like quality about the leader’s playing as he solos expansively, the predominately acoustic sounds of the piece again enhanced by a judicious and tasteful soupçon of atmospheric electronica.
“Liberty” maintains an air of quiet reflection via the now familiar combination of gently rippling piano and deeply resonant, but highly melodic, bass, played both with and without the bow. Rundqvist adds delicately brushed drums and plays with great restraint and taste throughout. Prior to seeing him with the Karlsson trio I was previously familiar with Rundqvist’s playing thanks to his work with various groups led by Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten and by Greek guitarist Tassos Spiliotopoulos.
The charmingly titled “King Of Crap” pokes fun at consumer culture, subtly mixing acoustic and electronic sounds with the leader deploying synths as well as his usual piano. I seem to remember that at Hereford all three group members contributed electronics of one sort or another and this aspect of the trio’s sound is more pronounced here than elsewhere thus far. It’s an approach not entirely dissimilar to that of E.S.T, but ultimately the Karlsson group ends up sounding very different, with a strong collective identity of its own.
“Popiyah” pushes even further into electronic territory, with the spookily atmospheric sounds of electronica effectively augmented by acoustic bass and percussion.
“!900” is a beautiful ballad featuring lyrical acoustic piano, languid double bass and delicately brushed drums, but subtly underscored by a gentle electro-acoustic undertow featuring the sounds of electronica and bowed strings. There are hints here of the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and also of the gently atmospheric eeriness of the “Twin Peaks” soundtrack.
“Metropolis” continues the effective fusing of acoustic and electronic sounds, this time via an infectious bass and drum groove around which Karlsson scatters fragments of wry piano melody.
There’s then a more expansive piano solo as the leader expounds above the implacable grooves laid down by his colleagues.
A quirky and spirited dialogue between Karlsson and Rundqvist introduces “Walk The Earth”, with electronics again coming to play an important role in the music as the protagonists threaten to abandon the planet and head for the outer reaches of deep space.
“Radio Silence” (also the title of a Neil Cowley album as I seem to recall) is an elegant rubato ballad that features some delightfully tender and melodic pizzicato bass playing from Spering, who also features equally effectively with the bow. Karlsson’s playing is notable for its gently flowing lyricism, while Rundqvist, deploying brushes, performs with an ego-less taste and restraint throughout.
It’s the drummer who introduces the closing “Colourful Grey (Song For Matera)”, his melodic mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers helping to set the tone for this gently anthemic piece, a beguiling song like composition that develops subtly, gradually gathering momentum via Spering’s bass and Karlsson’s acoustic piano solos, while also adding discrete, layering electronica. It concludes with Karlsson soloing expansively and heading off into the ether, an unexpected variation from the expected ‘big finish’.
Indeed defying expectations seems to embody what the Karlsson trio is all about. Despite its E.S.T. lineage and the leader’s link with Ostrom, plus the skilful deployment of electronic components, this is a group that has developed a style of its own within the Nordic jazz tradition. Karlsson also acknowledges Bobo Stenson as an influence and there are also traces of Stenson’s playing in his sound and general approach, but again there is no suggestion of mere copying.
Instead “Fuse Number Eleven” is a refreshingly cliché free slice of contemporary Scandinavian piano jazz, skilfully merging acoustic and electronic sounds on an intriguing mix of original compositions. The playing is excellent throughout with all of the trio’s members impressing both individually and collectively. On this evidence I’d also be keen to investigate some of the trio’s earlier works.
It’s unfortunate that a trio of this calibre didn’t attract more listeners to its Hereford gig. Once again I urge people to support the programme of events at the Left Bank Village in 2020. Hereford may never get the chance to present a jazz programme of this quality again if the local populace don’t make some effort to get behind it.
Forthcoming events are listed below, details sourced from the Left Bank Village website;
XHOSA COLE QUARTET
29th January 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm £12.00
Winner of the 2018 BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year, Xhosa Cole brings together an all-star quartet featuring some of the finest talent based in the UK. Alongside fellow finalist and bass player James Owston, powerhouse drummer Jim Bashford and Canadian trumpet virtuoso Jay Phelps, this band embodies the spirit of the Bebop and Hard bop greats. They will feature classic arrangements, contemporary takes on standards as well as original works from members of the band.
Line Up: Xhosa Cole – Sax, Jay Phelps – Trumpet, James Owston – Bass and Jim Bashford – Drums
IAIN BALLAMY QUARTET
7th February 2020 @ 7:45 pm – 10:45 pm £12.00
ECM recording artist Iain Ballamy is an internationally recognised saxophonist and composer who has been variously described as urbane, original, freethinking and uncompromising. Over three decades spent transcending musical genres and stereotypes and by forging strong and ongoing relationships with musicians around the globe, Ballamy has worked with many cutting-edge figures of today’s contemporary Jazz scene.
Line Up: Iain Ballamy – Sax, Huw Warren – Piano, Percy Pursglove – Bass/Trumpet and Mark Whitlam – Drums.
CLARK TRACEY QUINTET
6th March 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm
Clark grew up in a jazz environment as the son of Stan Tracey CBE, the UK’s leading jazz pianist, and from an early age took to the piano and vibraphones. At 13 he started playing the drums and he turned professional at 17 in 1978 by joining his father’s various ensembles, from trio to orchestra up to the present day. Within that context he has toured worldwide and recorded extensively. Over his whole career he has recruited the best young players emerging on the British jazz scene.
Line Up: Clark Tracey – Drums, Elliot Sansom – Piano, Sean Payne – Sax, James Copus – Trumpet, James Owston – Bass.
MARK LOCKHEART QUARTET
10th April 2020 @ 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm
This is part of the tour organised by Jazz West Midlands and showcases Lockheart’s new quartet. This brand-new group explores Mark’s multi-faceted outlook on music, through a new set of original compositions plus a few older ones for good measure; and even a Duke Ellington tune. Urgent and exciting grooves and improvising all cleverly crafted together within Lockheart’s unique but memorable tunes. Wide ranging influences from Ellington, Shorter, Gil Evans, John Zorn, Burt Bacharach and even Kraftwerk. All delivered by a stellar band of stars.
Line Up: Mark Lockheart – Saxophones, Elliot Galvin – Keyboards, Tom Herbert – Bass and Dave Smith – Drums.
HEREFORD LEFT BANK
BRIDGE STREET, HEREFORD, HR4 9DG
Tel: 01432 357753