by Ian Mann
July 17, 2018
This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit. A welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents.
Orjan Hulten Trio
“Live at Bas, 14 October 2017”
The Swedish saxophonist and composer Orjan Hulten first came to my attention as part of a quartet led by the Greek born guitarist and composer Tassos Spiliotopoulos.
Spiliotopoulos spent several years living in London, becoming a popular and significant presence on the UK jazz circuit, before moving to Stockholm in 2013. The guitarist wasted little time in immersing himself in the Swedish jazz scene and in 2016 released the superb album “In the North” with his “Swedish Band”, a quartet featuring Hulten, bassist Palle Sollinger and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist. This was Spiliotopoulos’ third album as a leader and his most accomplished recording to date.
Hulten played a big part in that record’s success and was part of the band that Spiliotopoulos brought to the UK for a short tour later in 2016. Having already been impressed by the album I was further delighted by the quartet’s performance at the Queens Head in Monmouth, one of the best gigs that I have ever seen at the venue. The band featured Spiliotopoulos, Hulten, new bassist Filip Augustson and the guitarist’s old friend and sometime boss Asaf Sirkis at the drums.
The success of that tour, and the good impression that Hulten made on it, led to the Swede returning to the UK in 2017 leading his own quartet Orion, featuring Augustson, drummer Peter Danemo and keyboard player Adam Forkelid. This unit have released a series of excellent albums including “Radio In My Head” (2010), “Mr Nobody” (2013) and “Faltrapport” (2016), all on the Swedish Artogrush imprint.
Alongside Orion, which places an emphasis on through composed material, Hulten has also worked regularly in the more improvisatory context of the saxophone trio – indeed the Spiliotopoulos “Swedish Band” was effectively the Hulten trio augmented by the guitarist, but with the focus placed firmly on Spiliotopoulos’ writing. Nevertheless the Hulten Trio has released a number of albums in its own right, including another live set “In The City” (2009) recorded at the Glenn Miller Jazz Club in Stockholm.
For this latest recording, captured at Stockholm’s Bas Club on 14th October 2017 as part of the city’s Jazz Festival, Hulten is joined by Filip Augustson on double bass and Fredrik Rundqvist at the drums. Hulten’s brief liner note explains;
“A very special thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom who prepared this recording without our knowledge and therefore saved it for the world”.
The material features four originals by Hulten and two by Augustson, plus one outside item each from those celebrated jazz composers Ornette Coleman and Joe Henderson.
The trio commence with their interpretation of Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”, ushered in by Rundqvist’s atmospheric solo drum introduction featuring the rumble of mallets, the shimmer of cymbals and the ringing and chiming of small percussion. Hulten picks out Coleman’s melody on tenor, shadowed by Augustson’s grainy arco bass as Rundqvist offers busily brushed support. The mood of the piece is suitably dolorous while the style of the performance is rooted in the kind of avant garde jazz that the hugely Coleman pioneered. The overall effect is haunting and strangely beautiful. Augustson’s use of the bow is reminiscent of the work of arco bass specialist David Izenzon, a member of Coleman’s classic 1960s trio along with drummer Charles Moffett. This trio issued two classic live albums documented at the Gyllencirkelt jazz club in Stockholm in December 1965. Known to English speaking jazz fans as “At The Golden Circle, Stockholm Volumes 1 and 2” these recordings were issued on the famous Blue Note label and may well have been an inspiration for Hulten and his colleagues.
The fragile, melancholy mood continues into the introduction of Augustson’s “Turtle Dance”, which begins as a three way discussion between Hulten’s wispy tenor sax, Augustson’s virtuoso double bass picking and the patter and rustle of Rundqvist’s drums and percussion. It’s likely that this first section is entirely improvised, one can sense the musicians listening to each other and responding accordingly. Later the composer establishes a bass motif that grounds the rest of the piece and forms the anchor for Hulten’s melodic tenor sax explorations as Rundqvist continues to provide typically colourful and imaginative percussive accompaniment. The drummer’s idiosyncratic, highly detailed playing is a source of delight throughout the album.
Hulten’s own “Rubato” finds the saxophonist digging deeper in a manner that has invited comparisons with Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. His probing takes place against an ever evolving backdrop of double bass and drums with Augustson later taking an impressive pizzicato solo as the ever inventive Rundqvist chatters around him.
Also by Hulten “Diggin’ The Birds” has a title that also suggests the influence of Charlie Parker. Still on tenor the saxophonist’s playing is more forceful and strident here with Coltrane and Rollins again springing to mind. Augustson and Rundqvist keep pace with the leader, their brisk rhythms helping to drive the tune with the latter’s busy, colourful drums coming to the fore on more than one occasion.
Augustson’s pizzicato bass introduces Henderson’s “Y Tovadio La Quiera”, his melodic bass motif providing the backbone of the tune as Hulten stretches out on tenor and Rundqvist explores his kit with another restlessly inventive percussive performance. Augustson is later released from his anchoring role to deliver a virtuoso solo of his own before Hulten takes up Henderson’s infectious melody once more and improvises around it. The piece finally resolves itself with a return to the sound of unaccompanied double bass.
Hulten’s “Old Friend, New Friend” is a tune that has been in the trio’s repertoire for some time with another version appearing on the “In The City” release. Dedicated to “John and Alice” it’s presumably a homage to the Coltranes and there’s a suitable feeling of ‘spiritual jazz’ about the piece as Hulten stretches out on tenor around a strong and arresting melodic theme. Augustson is also featured on pizzicato double bass, his tone big and resonant, his soloing powerful and fluent.
“April, April”, subtitled “Lick the Ground” is another Hulten tune that appeared on the “In The City” recording. It’s an attractive, bop influenced piece with another strong theme that provides soloing opportunities for Hulten and Augustson in addition to a typically quirky, colourful and inventive drum feature from Rundqvist. Together with the Henderson piece this features some of the most conventional ‘jazz’ playing on the album.
The album concludes with the Augustson composed “Miniatyr” which is introduced by Rundqvist at the drums. He’s subsequently joined by Hulten’s slightly plaintive sounding tenor and the composer’s resonant double bass. Hulten sketches the melody thoughtfully, shadowed by bass and the rustle of brushed drums plus neatly detailed percussive embellishments. The mood is unexpectedly gentle and reflective.
Although less rewarding in the home listening environment than Hulten’s more considered quartet albums “Live At Bas” is nevertheless a welcome reminder of Hulten’s talents as a saxophonist and improviser, the same observation applying equally to Augustson and Rundqvist.
Like many live recordings it was probably best experienced ‘in person’ but there’s still much to enjoy about an album that includes some excellent playing from all three protagonists. This long running musical alliance is very much a trio of equals with each individual member emerging with considerable credit.
But for new listeners to Hulten’s music I’d probably direct you in the direction of his latest quartet recording “Faltrapport” (also Artogrush) first.
Thanks to Fredrik Nordstrom for documenting this performance and let’s hope for another visit to the UK from Orjan Hulten in the not too distant future.
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