ANOTHER SUPERB ALBUM BY A PEERLESS TRIO
Reviewed in the United States on 11 April 2013
When Indicum, the newest album by Bobo Stenson`s great trio (Stenson, piano; Anders Jormin, bass; Jon Falt, drums), came out last fall, I preordered it because I wanted to hear how the group sounded with its new drummer. (Falt wasn't that new to the group -he'd been with it five years by then, but I'd not heard him yet). I liked Indicum so much that I ordered this earlier album, which I like even more.
I loved the earlier incarnation of this group with drummer Jon Christensen, whom I consider one of the great modern drummers. The subtlety and flexibility of his drumming, his ability to modulate between rhythm-keeping and free drumming, all done at a subdued volume that lay like a carpet beneath the piano and bass, had wowed me since I first heard him on Eberhard Weber's classic 1976 recording, Yellow Fields. What would the presence of a new drummer, no matter how competent, due to a trio whose playing in its previous incarnation had been distinguished by the subtlety and flow of its playing as a unit?
When I first listened to Indicum and Cantando, I most noticed the difference. Falt played intelligently (it's hard to imagine anyone in a group led by Stenson who wouldn`t play intelligently) but he wasn't Jon Christensen. At the moment, that meant a lack to me. Repeated playings have erased the distinction. Falt isn't Christensen. He brings different strengths and a different balance to the group. Christensen's playing was distinguished by its subtle and varied sense of time, the way he would break into rhythm and tick along insistently beside piano and bass at times, his feathery wildness. Jon Falt plays differently but just as distinctively. He can play subtle and do it well but on balance, Falt is more intrusive and more often the free drummer on these cuts. And like his predecessor Christensen, he knows how to move this group along so that at its slowest, it's never static or turgid. So hurrah for Falt! And hurrah again for the Stenson trio, which is as strong as it ever was!
Stenson has been compared to Keith Jarrett, and in early6 recordings, the affinity is unmistakable. But he has never been a clone of Jarrett, neither in his playing nor in his selection of songs. He's like him in how competent a player he is, how well he blends propulsion and lyricism in his playing, his ability to move from single note to two handed chording, but he's never seemed more than a cousin -no, a second cousin- of his American contemporary. As to Anders Jormin, he may be the only contemporary bassist who can stand up to Charlie Haden in the fullness of his sound. Listen to "Wooden Church," a Jormin composition, on Cantando. It starts with a solo by Jormin that sounds like a transposed whale song, full of untranslatable longing. Or listen to the interesting and long -13 minutes!- serial composition, "Pages," which is not one song but separate segments which each of the three players initiate.
This is a trio that does what jazz trios ought to do. Its members are partners, collaborators. They listen to each other, anticipate, respond. The result is a flowing, diverse, melodic, always interesting, emotionally satisfying music. Of the two albums by this incarnation of the group, I prefer Cantando and that's why this review is about that album and not about the newer one. I prefer it not because the playing is any better -the playing is first-rate on both albums- but because I like the song selection, which includes, along with several originals, a composition by Astor Piazzolla, one by Alban Berg, and paired songs by Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman. ("Don's Kora Song" is one of the loveliest pieces Cherry ever wrote.)
If one were starting fresh with the Stenson trio, my advice would be to buy first, the double album, Serenity (ECM, 2000) and second, Cantando. After that, go whichever way you will. You won't go wrong whichever albums you buy. This group is a keeper.
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