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Happy Land


by Ian Mann

July 21, 2010


An absorbing album that covers a wide range of territory both musically and geographically and does so with a keen sense of fun and adventure.


“Happy Land”

(Mindoors Music MM002)

Nybakat! are a multinational, multicultural quartet based in Stockholm. The name means “freshly baked” in Swedish and this is the group’s second album. Their eponymous first album (which I’ve not heard) explored Swedish folk and religious music, following a path already trodden by Jan Johannson,  Jan Lundgren and the Norrland duo of Jonas Knutsson & Johan Norberg among others. 

“Happy Land” broadens the quartet’s horizons to take in other folk musics including klezmer and flamenco. It’s a more accurate depiction of the diverse backgrounds of the four members. Nominally the group is led by pianist Ira Mogilevsky, an Israeli citizen born in Russia but now based in Sweden. Her writing on the new record draws extensively on her Russian/Israeli roots. The Swedish half of the band consists of saxophonist Bjorn Dahlberg (who now lives in the UK) and bassist Markus Hangsel. The group is completed by Estonian born drummer Vlad Nedelin, another musician who has spent a good deal of time working in Israel. Mogilevsky and Nedelin sometimes work together as Mogned,  an improvising duo that makes subtle use of electronics to enhance their sound.

Although Mogilevsky is ostensibly the group’s leader the quartet is in fact a highly democratic unit with all four members contributing compositions to the twelve track programme. “Happy Land ” is a lengthy disc totalling some seventy five minutes and the programme is divided into two sets of six tunes, a reflection perhaps of the group’s live repertoire. It’s apparent even from Desiree Midman’s delightfully whimsical cover art that this is a group that likes to have fun. The standard of musicianship is uniformly high throughout but the group’s good humour and spirit of adventure also shines through and is equally impressive.

The album begins with Mogilevsky’s “Sevivon”, a Hebrew term referring to a child’s spinning top. The theme is suitably bright and lively and obviously rooted in klezmer but the arrangement also allows for a more conventionally jazzy piano solo from the excellent Mogilevsky. The piece is a good introduction to the voices of the band with Hangsel’s sturdy but supple bass the anchor. Nedelin is a wonderfully colourful and flexible drummer and percussionist and Dahlberg’s saxophone work brings an orthodox but highly adaptable jazz flavour to the music.

Dahlberg’s “Flamencophone” adds the hand-clapping rhythms of flamenco to the group’s jazz/klezmer flavourings. The tune demonstrates Hangsel’s formidable soloing abilities and Dahlberg shows his versatility by doubling on clarinet. Mogilevsky provides the occasional lyrical moment and Nedelin’s playing is an effervescent tour de force as he supports his colleagues with grace and acumen. Great fun. 

Nedelin takes over the compositional reins for “August Campfire”, a cinematic, sometimes smouldering depiction of the subject named in the title. Hangsel impresses with his huge tone during his bass solo on what is the group’s freest offering thus far.

The next piece, also by Nedelin is far more light hearted in its approach as the punning title “Vlad’s Sweets And Tears” suggests. Dahlberg’s mercurial soprano sets the pace, matched by Mogilevsky’s joyful piano and Nedelin’s effervescent, always colourful drumming. I can imagine this piece being something of an audience favourite when the quartet performs live.

Mogilevsky’s “Bobe Mayses” (“Grandmother’s Tales” in Yiddish) re-introduces the quartet’s klezmer leanings in invigorating fashion. After a sombre but brief intro featuring Hangsel’s arco bass the piece takes off in lively fashion featuring dancing clarinet, bravura drumming and with plenty of rhythmic complexities for Mogilevsky and Hangsel to get their teeth into.

Hangsel’s tune “It’s Good, It’s A Disease” rounds out the “first set”, a woozily skewed waltz that features Dahlberg on soprano plus the bassist himself as soloists above the jagged rhythms.

There’s an unsettling period of silence before the disc continues with the second set. Mogilevsky’s lengthy ensemble piece “The Rite” gets things moving again, unwinding slowly, insistently and dramatically with Dahlberg’s low register reeds a notable feature. The title is apt, there’s a kind of primeval force about the playing and writing here.

Hangsel’s “33 Delar” or 33 beats is derived from a Swedish folk tune. It’s less frenetic than one might expect with a pastoral saxophone/piano intro leading into a more forceful passage full of odd,  almost drunken sounding time signatures. Hangsel’s biography states that he also plays hip hop, punk jazz and free improv in different bands. His intriguing pieces certainly bring something of the avant garde to Nybakat!‘s repertoire.

From the pen of Dahlberg “Den Sista Isbjornens Dans” translates as “The Last Polar Bear’s Dance”.
The mood lurches from celebratory to cautionary in the blink of an eye. This is a group that can think on it’s feet and the complex, colourful passages heard here fit well into the Nybakat! aesthetic.

Mogilevsky’s “Haarava” refers to the Israeli desert of the same name. It’s a dramatic and cinematic depiction of it’s subject with brooding clarinet/soprano, atmospheric percussion and deeply resonant bass with the composer’s piano providing both colour and an anchor from which to advance.

In the main the second set of tunes is darker and more impressionistic than the first and shows a different side to the quartet’s collective character. In pre CD days “Happy Land” might well have been a double album with each disc revealing different facets of the group.

That said Nedelin’s “Music Box” marks a return to the more playful attitude of the first set with some sparkling piano from Mogilevsky, sturdy grooves from Hangsel, earthy saxophone from Dahlberg and typically characterful drumming from the composer.   

Mogilevsky’s title track ends the album on a suitably upbeat note with the quartet deploying a subtle funk/reggae groove as the back drop for Dahlberg’s powerful blowing. Dynamic contrast is provided by passages of delicate solo piano before the quartet build to an anthemic, post bop finale.

“Happy Land” is a fascinating blend of colours, textures and styles. Occasionally sombre in mood but more commonly playful this is an absorbing album that covers a wide range of territory both musically and geographically and does so with a keen sense of fun and adventure. All four individuals are excellent players and their contrasting writing styles add greatly to the diversity of the album. I was particularly taken with Nedelin’s constantly inventive drumming, he’s certainly a musician I’d like to hear a lot more of. At seventy five minutes “Happy Land” is maybe a tad too long but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the music on offer.

The group’s members mainly seem to be active in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Israel. However if any were to visit the UK either individually or collectively I’m sure that they’d be well worth seeing.

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