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Nybakat! at Torfaen Jazz Society, The Open Hearth, Griffithstown, Pontypool, 01/07/2011.

by Ian Mann

July 05, 2011


Their combination of musical sophistication, humour, and superb instrumental skills deserves to win them a wider following.


Torfaen Jazz Society, The Open Hearth, Griffithstown, Pontypool.


This was my first visit to Torfaen Jazz Society’s new home, the Open Hearth pub in Griffithstown/Sebastopol just outside Pontypool. Just a stone’s throw from their former venue at Sebastopol Social Club the Open Hearth boasts a delightful canal side location and an impressive selection of real ales. I was driving so I had to stick to the orange juice, but I couldn’t resist shooting an envious glance at promoter Ceri Williams’ crystal clear pint of Wye Valley HPA.

The reason for driving all that way and forcibly forsaking the beer was the prospect of seeing the exciting Stockholm based quartet Nybakat! whose 2009 “Happy Land” album proved to be one of the most pleasant listening surprises of 2010 (see review elsewhere on this site). The group is led by the young Russian born pianist and composer Ira Mogilevsky and also includes her compatriot Vlad Nedelin on drums plus the Swedish pairing of Marcus Hangsel on double bass and Bjorn Dahlberg on a variety of reeds. All four members contribute to the writing process in what is a very democratic group.

The group’s eponymous début album (which I’ve yet to hear) was released in 2007 and was a jazz exploration of Swedish folk tunes in a style originally pioneered by pianist Jan Johannson. “Happy Land” casts the quartet’s net wider with the all original programme embracing a variety of musical styles. Mogilevsky and Nedelin are in fact Israeli citizens and the influence of klezmer is thus particularly prominent in the group’s current style.

Tonight a small but select audience in the restaurant/function room of The Open Hearth enjoyed a programme that embraced both the group’s albums but with the majority of the material being drawn from “Happy Land”. “Nybakat” means “freshly baked” in Swedish and the group made frequent references to putting traditional folk music through their “baking machine”. They commenced with Mogilevsky’s “Sevivon”, the opening track on “Happy Land” and one that quickly established the distinctive sound of the band. The infectious klezmer inspired melody is readily accessible but allows for plenty of rhythmic and harmonic variation. Live it becomes clear just how musically sophisticated Nybakat! are. Nedelin is a wonderfully colourful and responsive drummer,always listening and capable of conjuring a remarkable array of sounds from his kit. The classically trained Mogilevsky has an excellent technique and even sounded good on the venue’s battered old upright. Dahlberg is a gifted improviser on both tenor and soprano saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet. The flexible Hangsel is an intuitive bass player who helps to glue the various strands of the group’s music together. He is also an excellent soloist. “Sevivon” included excellent solos from Mogilevsky at the piano and Dahlberg on tenor and demonstrated the group’s quirky sense humour with a teasing series of false endings.

Next came a Swedish folk tune from the first album (I’m not even going to attempt a stab at the title) that featured a lengthy piano intro and solo from Mogilevsky plus the rich woody tones of Dahlberg’s bass clarinet and Hangsel’s bowed bass.

Dahl berg’s “Flamencophone” is a dedication to his grandmother, the first teacher of Spanish dance in Sweden. The piece adds Flamenco rhythms to the groups diverse sources and is one of the most appealing tracks on the “Happy Land” album. Here Hangsel demonstrated his considerable soloing abilities with a busily plucked solo and he was followed by Dahlberg’s urgent work on soprano saxophone.

The title of the next tune was unannounced but featured a lengthy, brooding solo piano intro and long lined tenor saxophone lines above Mogilevsky’s piano arpeggios. From the group’s first album there then came a Swedish folk tune that originally combined a Bach melody with a Swedish folk lyric. Nybakat! mutated the piece still further by adding a surprisingly authentic “jazz” feel through the solos of Mogilevsky on piano and Dahlberg on tenor.

From “Happy Land” the atmospheric “Haarava” is Mogilevsky’s musical depiction of the Israeli desert, here represented by spooky percussive effects, the sound of dampened piano strings and Dahlberg’s eerie clarinet meditations.

The next tune was announced but may have been Nedelin’s “Music Box” from “Happy Land”.Nedelin’s odd meter, vaguely martial drumming was the springboard for Mogilevsky’s octave jumping, Myra Melford style piano soloing. Dahlberg’s soprano solo threw in a quote from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” and there were also features for bass and drums. The group then closed a lengthy but enjoyable first half with Hangsel’s quirky waltz “It’s Good, It’s A Disease” with solos from Mogilevsky, Dahlberg on soprano and the composer on bass.

An equally long second half featured a further eight tunes, the majority of them drawn from “Happy Land”. The title track itself kicked off the proceedings and incorporated powerful tenor sax from Dahlberg either side of a solo piano interlude from Mogilevsky.

Nedelin’s “Vlad’s Sweets & Tears” lived up to the quirkiness of its title with some colourful drumming from the composer plus a blistering soprano solo from Dahlberg.

Mogilevsky’s “The Rite” darkened the mood with its modal atmospherics featuring shadowy bass clarinet, grainy arco bass and the rumble of soft mallets on toms in addition to the composer’s gently probing piano.

Dahlberg’s “Dance Of The Last Polar Bear” juxtaposed the group’s trademark quirkiness with more sombre passages, the highlight being the duet between Mogilevsky and Hangsel and the bassist’s subsequent solo.

It was the turn of Dahlberg to duet with Mogilevsky on Hangsel’s “33 Delar” before the piece erupted into a lurching rhythm that provided the backdrop for Dahlberg’s powerful tenor solo. 

A new Mogilevsky piece entitled “Many Many Aprils” reintroduced the band’s more lyrical side with features for Dahlberg on tenor and the composer at the piano, both framed by the delicate detail of Nedelin’s drumming.

A very different Mogilevsky’s tune, “Bobe Mayses” or “Grandmother’s Tales” closed the evening on a playful, highly energetic note. After a mock solemn introduction for piano and arco bass the piece erupted into boisterous klezmer stylings with Dahlberg on clarinet and with Hangsel frantically sawing at his double bass throughout. A final drum feature from the talented Nedelin rounded off a characterful performance from the young drummer.

The small Torfaen crowd were highly appreciative of this superb young band’s efforts. They were nearing the end of a short British tour that will hopefully gain them a bit more of a toehold in this country. Their combination of musical sophistication, humour, and superb instrumental skills deserves to win them a wider following. They also make an arresting visual spectacle with the three guys in the group sporting an array of cool headgear. Dahlberg handled the bulk of the announcements, the Swedish half of the band were clearly better speakers of English than the Russians. The Jazzmann gave Nybakat! their first UK review and tonight’s show only went to reinforce my opinion that this group deserves to be more widely known.

The admittedly sparse Torfaen crowd certainly “got them” and Ceri Williams and his colleagues are to be congratulated on the adventurousness of their programming. All styles of jazz get catered for at TJS with artists ranging from young, often local, up and comers to established stars such as alto saxophonist Peter King who recently packed out the club. So thanks to TJS for making me so welcome, it’s a shame the venue is just a little bit too far away for me to visit on a regular basis. For those of you reading this who may live more locally please continue to give TJS your support. 

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