It’s not an uncommon occurrence on the modern jazz scene to hear musicians blending various influences with jazz. When done well, the sequencing of traits and elements and eccentricities can produce sounds that are very much Jazz, but expressed in very individualistic ways. It builds intrigue, for sure. But, occasionally, an album pops up that doesn’t attempt to mesh disparate influences, instead cordons them off from one another, excepting strategically placed transition points utilized to provide a sense of flow and purpose.
On Oskar Schönning‘s 2012 release, The Violin, he cooks up a recipe that is one-half old-school bop and one-half modern Nordic jazz, and he presents them slowly, one at a time, like photos in a slideshow, one after the other, joined not by music elements, but by the totality of the story.
Your album personnel: Oskar Schönning (bass), Nils Berg (bass clarinet), Sebastian Voegler (drums), Jonas Östholm (piano), Lisa Rydberg (violin), and Emil Strandberg (trumpet).
The album is divided into four parts.
After Berg and Ostholm open the album with some soulful notes on bass clarinet and frenetic phrases on piano, the tune takes a jaunty turn, hitting a bop stride that is returned to throughout the album. And after an extended section of this, the album makes its first significant transition. The group drops off, and Rydberg enters on violin, signifying the first entry to a Nordic Jazz phase. The melody isn’t that far removed from Berg’s early opening hints, but the combo of violin and piano quickly develops it into something more, something similar… one says ‘hello’ and the other says ‘goodbye’ and it’s nearly the same expression.
Strandberg’s trumpet is in a punchy mood on “Part II.” Berg’s bass clarinet hits some woozy notes in the background and Voegler’s drums keep a genial shuffle. Schonning keeps things casual on bass, and the ensemble plays the kind of cool blue jazz tune that goes long into the night.
“Part III” transitions back from bop to a modern serenity of the ensemble’s home base. Violin opens things up with a folksy presence, so lovely, and when the rest of the ensemble joins in, it continues a woozy, languorous presence. When piano enters with warm tones, the ensemble moves aside, leaving Schönning’s bass as piano’s dance partner. And this leads to a transition back to straight-ahead jazz. An ensemble effort, this time more structured and with a joyful presence, led by cheerful notes on bass clarinet and drums which get things swinging.
“Part IV” opens with a breathy bass clarinet, piano, and bass pacing back and forth. When trumpet enters with a serenade, drums and piano balance the slowly unfolding notes with some plucky rhythms. This leads to violin taking over the role of melodic development, and this development becomes one of the highlights of the album. After a beautiful extended section of violin with only some piano accompaniment, the ensemble re-enters the tune, taking the baton from violin in one fluid motion, directly into the sound of a Western movie… the clop of hooves, the music of the wide open plains, a cowboy riding his steed into town… echoes of Sonny Rollins’ classic Way Out West. The folk has given way to Jazz yet again, easing into a moody sort of swing. Bass clarinet and trumpet dance around a cheerful rhythm, piano scramble across its surface, and then some gorgeous harmonization to bring the album to its conclusion.
Just a lovely album, and one I would’ve included in my Best of 2012 list had I been down with it at the time.
The album is Self-Produced.
Jazz from the Stockholm, Sweden scene.
The CD liner notes and accompanying photos, which focus on Schonning’s boyhood home, are really something. Credit to Po Tidholm for the work.
Here’s a link to a Schonning video I featured on Bird is the Worm a ways back.
Thanks to the person who goes by the nick The Elephant Shrew on the AAJ forum for the heads up about this recording, and thanks to the person who goes by the nick duco01 on the Afterword site for the reminder about this album.