Bobo Stenson‘s trio is a truly great unit, thrilling to see wherever it is. Catching them at a home town gig, following the release of their latest album, Contra la indecisión, ran the risk of heightening expectation to unrealistic levels. I’ve written about the album for London Jazz News , so there’s no need to rehearse the enthusiasm for the quality of the recording. Live, there’s an extra fizz. There was the ever present potential for the unexpected, and the added interaction with a capacity crowd, jammed into Fasching’s long, narrow space. Following the opening announcement which was greeted with loud, warm cheers (I can’t report on the content of the remarks, my Swedish remaining pretty much limited to Hej! and Tack) Anders Jormin, Jon Fält and Stenson threaded their way through the crush, Bobo stepping over the punters on the two or three steps up to the low platform stage .
I needn’t have worried about over-heated expectation. No matter the source of the material, the trio weave their magic. The first set sprinkled some of the new material amongst well worn favourites, the second concentrated on the new album. As the evening wore on, the freedom and expansiveness increased. Their signature pulsating grooves, that seem to arrive from nowhere, gave wings to exultant soloing. Over a glorious calypso tinged workout early on, Jormin’s bass solo was propelled by Stenson and Fält exchanging volleys of unresolved rhythmic phrases around each implied emphasis of a beat from Jormin. Don’s Kora Song evolved from a loose, tumbling, group statement of a theme into a modal burn-up before settling into a trance-like vamp. Jormin’s Oktoberhavet started with a singing, arco melody over a dancing piano motif that arrived after a skittish clatter from the percussion, sketchy chords and teasing rhythmic flurries until finally the repeating motif appeared. It was quintessential Bobo. The solo that followed was thrilling with long evolving melodic phrases and scampering internal commentaries and, now and then, almost bluesey turns when you least expected them.
The great players don’t just draw on the traditions and innovations of the past. Somehow, those things are part of what they do, but become something unique and freshly minted when expressed by them, especially when they’ve found the right partners. Stenson was not the first to absorb folk traditions into the performance of jazz, or to draw on the richness of classical harmony and inflections. He is without peers however, and surely hugely influential in the natural way in which, over decades he’s wrought a sound with his bands. His capacity to combine those elements and make them leap and perform tricks in his soloing is unfailing.
The second set opened with Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez’s Contra la indecisión, rendered as a gently country-ish groover and a sense of Stenson really stretching out, lyrical, swooping lines reeling out. Bartok’s Wedding Song From Poniky darkened the atmosphere and the improvisation was a group affair, the bass offering ghostly sketches, and piano and percussion bubbling and moving things on. Elegie‘s soaring melancholy was built to an intense climax by the piano, Jormin’s bass solo taking it even further before the theme returned with a whisper. They rocked out on Stilla, another Jormin penned, driving pulse, bursting into a wonky swing momentarily and bringing everyone to their feet at the conclusion. The roars for ‘more’ were irresistible. This band, this music are irresistible.