Winner of the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Best Media, 2019

by Ian Mann

February 08, 2024


A very impressive offering from Sjostedt and the SJO, with the leader’s multi-faceted compositions and arrangements bringing out the best of one of the world’s leading contemporary jazz big bands.

Martin Sjostedt & Stockholm Jazz Orchestra


(Ubuntu Music UBU0148CD)

Martin Sjostedt – piano

Niklas Fernqvist – double bass,

Adam Ross -drums

Peter Dahlgren, Karn Hammar, Hannes Junestav - trombones

Anders Viborg – bass trombone

Fredrik Noren, Karl Olandersson, Nils Janson, Magnus Broo – trumpets & flugelhorns

Fredrik Kronkvist – alto sax, flute

Johan Christoffersson – alto sax, flute

Karl-Martin Almqvist – tenor sax, clarinet

Andreas Gidlund – tenor sax, clarinet, flute

Fredrik Lindborg – baritone sax, bass clarinet

This new album from the Swedish pianist, bassist, composer, arranger and bandleader Martin Sjostedt appears on the British record label Ubuntu Music. It’s also pretty damn good, thus making it a suitable candidate to be the subject of a review by The Jazzmann.

Sjostedt became the regular bassist with the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra (hereafter the SJO) in 1997 and has performed with visiting American guest stars such as saxophonists Joe Lovano and Bob Mintzer, composer Maria Schneider and the band The Yellowjackets.

In his role as a bassist he has also led his own small groups, among them the Martin Sjostedt Band featuring multi-instrumentalist Magnus Lindgren, pianist Jonas Ostholm and drummer Daniel Fredriksson.

In 2021 he released the album “Walking Tall”, which saw him leading a quintet featuring SJO trumpeter Karl Olandersson plus saxophonist Karl Rusktrask Johansson, keyboard player Leo Lindberg and drummer Moussa Fadera.

Sjostedt is also an accomplished pianist and performed in this capacity with the British jazz vocalist Claire Martin on the singer’s 2019 release for Linn Records “Believin’ It”. The album also features Niklas Fernqvist on double bass.

Sjostedt appears in the piano chair throughout “Horizons”. He is also a skilled composer and arranger and “Horizons” features four of his original compositions alongside five of his big band arrangements of classic jazz compositions from John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker and Abdullah Ibrahim.

The SJO acts as a kind of jazz collective and Sjostedt’s compositions and arrangements have been written specifically for the musicians in the band. He also enjoys a close musical relationship with the SJO’s Musical Director, trumpeter Fredrik Noren.

Sjostedt says of his writing for the Orchestra;
“It’s a significant challenge but also a privilege to write for some of the members I’ve not only toured with for almost 20 years but also consider close friends. I aim to create a musical framework where the soloist feels completely liberated while also allowing myself to communicate and challenge through the large ensemble.  I now realise that all the music I compose for larger ensembles aims to provide a sense of personal involvement for everyone and allows space for each individual’s unique personality”.

In his album liner notes the American jazz trumpeter Tim Hagans describes Sjostedt’s relationship with the members of the SJO as “Ellingtonian”, an apt and very valid comparison. “Horizons” appears in the year of the 40th anniversary of the SJO’s formation as a rehearsal big band in 1984. The Orchestra recorded its first album with the American valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer in 1986 and has continued to record on a regular basis. Since 2011 it has primarily concentrated on original material composed by its own members.

According to Hagans’ notes “Horizons” is a semi-conceptual work based on the notion of a narrative of a single day. He writes;
“The two most dramatic moments of any day are experienced whilst gazing at the horizon; the first glimpse of light and its anticipation of the living day and the fading sun emanating with the satisfaction of a day well lived”.
Arguably he rather labours the point when he declares that Noren and the SJO “are always searching the horizon for inspiration”. Nevertheless the concept informs the track sequencing, with Hancock’s “Butterfly” greeting the dawn and Coltrane’s “Equinox” representing the setting of the sun.

Things get underway with an intricate, but joyous and playful, arrangement of the said “Butterfly” that features some thrilling contrapuntal interplay between the various horns followed by rousing big band passages powered by Ross’s drums. Kronkvist emerges as the first featured soloist with a blistering excursion on alto sax. The second named soloist is Sjostedt himself, who quickly establishes his pianistic credentials during the course of a fluent solo. An enjoyable and energising start.

Sjostedt’s own “Intervals” is less frenetic and brings a touch of gentle lyricism to the proceedings. With Ross now deploying brushes the sound of Fernqvist’s bass is prominent in the early stages. Christofferson’s alto solo is more pensive than Kronkvist’s, his tone lighter and more lyrical, almost soprano like at times. Sjostedt appears as a soloist once more, stretching out expansively as the momentum of the music gradually begins to build, with Christofferson’s alto briefly returning before the close.

The intricate contours of Charlie Parker’s bebop classic “Donna Lee” provide ample scope for another complex and inventive big band arrangement, again featuring some dazzling interplay between the horns. Within the lively ensemble performance trumpeter Olandersson and trombonist
Junestav emerge as the featured soloists, both delivering fluent and agile individual features. Drummer Ross again shows up powerfully in the ‘engine room’.

Sjostedt continues the practice of alternating outside compositions with his own tunes as “Horizon” itself follows. As befits its title this is an evocative piece that evolves slowly and episodically, from quietly abstract beginnings to full on orchestral magnificence. The richness of the horn arrangements sees some members of the ensemble doubling on flutes and clarinets. Meanwhile the tenor sax of featured soloist Almqvist wanders through the tune like a narrator, expressing a variety of emotions from the pensive to the angry and impassioned.

“The Wedding” is one of the best loved compositions of the great South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. It is introduced here by a lush horn chorale which forms part of a beautiful arrangement that also features the sounds of flutes and bass clarinet. Sjostedt and the SJO treat the tune with appropriate reverence and respect and Sjostedt’s cameo at the piano is followed by concise but eloquent solos from Almqvist on tenor and Olandersson on tenor, the pair later combining to deliver a series of elegantly intertwined melody lines.

Sjostedt takes up the compositional reins again for “Mulgrew”, presumably written to honour the late, great American pianist and composer Mulgrew Miller (1955 – 2013). A version of this tune also appears on Sjostedt’s “Walk Tall” album. It’s a delightful tribute with a memorable melodic theme, the mellifluous arrangement acting as the vehicle for cogent solos from Kronkvist on alto sax and Lindborg on baritone, the latter displaying a remarkable fluency and agility on the ‘big horn’.

The first of two John Coltrane tunes is “”6-2”, introduced by Ross at the drums and featuring a rousing arrangement that includes rumbustious solos from Dahlgren on trombone and Sjostedt at the piano.

Sjostedt’s own “Tengtones” is a more reflective offering with warm, lush horn voicings, including flutes and flugels, complementing a beautiful melodic theme. Lyrical solos come from the leader on piano and Janson on trumpet.

As alluded to previously the album concludes with John Coltrane’s “Equinox”, which features a subtly seductive arrangement incorporating the sounds of clarinets and flutes. Coltrane’s familiar theme eventually emerges and acts as the launch pad for uplifting solos from Almqvist on tenor sax and Broo on trumpet.

“Horizon” represents a very impressive offering from Sjostedt and the SJO, with the leader’s multi-faceted compositions and arrangements bringing out the best from a group of experienced musicians who make up one of the world’s leading contemporary big bands. As Hagans observes Sjostedt’s arrangements of the outside pieces “uncover elements buried in this music that have patiently been waiting for discovery”.

The brilliant musicianship of the SJO is also well served by a superior sound mix, courtesy of producer Sjostedt and recording engineer Lars Nilsson of Nilento Studio in Gothenburg. A pinpoint mix brings out all the colours, subtleties and nuances inherent in Sjostedt’s compositions and arrangements and ensures that all the musicians sound good, whether individually or collectively.

With this excellent album appearing on a British label it would be nice to think that Sjostedt and the SJO might visit the UK to play a couple of festival dates or something similar. It would be great to see this music performed live, one can but hope.

“Horizon” will be released on Ubuntu Music on Friday February 9th 2024.

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