A handful of years ago, I stumbled upon the music of Klabbes Bank during one of my late-night sessions of just wandering the halls of the internet in search of cool new music. They had just released their album Je Suis la Mer, and I immediately gravitated to it and everything else they’ve done during their career. They’ve released four albums, which I’ll cover in today’s column. They have a fifth album out now. We’ll visit that one next week. For now, I just want to give a rundown of what’s led up to this point.
There is a Friday Night Out On the Town quality to this Swedish jazz ensemble… an immediacy to the music that makes me feel like I’m not that far removed from a few rounds of beer. The music feels like a celebration. There’s an exuberance to how the individual members of the sextet throw their weight around. And even when their individual contributions sound detached from one another, the music possesses a synchronicity that leads to a wonderful confluence of creative expressions.
This band is fun, and their music is joyful even during its darker moments. And there are plenty of darker moments, heartbreaking at times, but then the spirits rise again with the blast of trombone, the ascendent optimism of piano keys, the eminence of sax blaring that all is right with the world, and bass, drums and percussion blazing a path to a long night that says The Weekend Is Here.
Now, about that music.
Klabbes Bank – Musik För Sånna Som Mormor & Morfar
Their debut was the 2004 release Musik För Sånna Som Mormor & Morfar. In addition to serving as an introduction to the ensemble as recording artists, it also presents all of the elements that have contributed to later recordings, in varying degrees. Their debut spreads it out pretty evenly. Looking back on it, their debut provides the least amount of definition to the band’s personality and vision. However, by way of setting the table for what was to come, Musik För Sånna Som Mormor & Morfar was an excellent way to say “hello.”
Of all their albums, this one displays the greatest influence of post-bop in their discography. Opening track “Hampe & Balle” develops a nice little groove and laces it with some post-bop heat. This also happens to a greater degree on “I Värmland Är Det Schönt,”
“Skräcken” keeps the groove going, but spurs it on with a greater determination. But the song’s selling point is the melodic dramatics going for a big sound and even some chaotic dispersal to bring the song to a close. Their ability to draw out a melodic beauty even during sudden and dramatic surges of intensity is something Klabbes Bank excels at. It’s also a quality that serves them well in subsequent recordings, as they become increasingly willing to utilize that talent on new compositions.
“Schysst Schönt” is a song made of moonlight. It’s a form of expression that comes up often with Klabbes Bank.
The title-track gives some indication of what’s to come later, though never truly manifesting in its complete form until their 2013 release Protect the Forest. The song has a fluid, but rapid motion, not unlike driving down long highways… a sense of a constant high rate of speed that feels almost serene, by way of its effortless propulsion and acclimation to a strange but familiar sound.
“Tunnelbanan” falls right in line with this. It’s a preview of a distant point on their creative arc, while also encapsulating their potent mix of melodic enchantment and percussive engagement. On the other hand, the celebratory tones and freer, volatile motion of “I Värmland Är Det Schönt” is a preview of music approaching much sooner.
The album ends with the sole vocal track, “Dödenlåten,” displaying the band’s ability to create profoundly heartbreaking moments out of the sweetest, warmest expressions.
It’s an excellent debut, the kind of album that is likely to generate some serious intrigue into what would come next.
Your album personnel: Klas-Henrik Hörngren (piano), Thomas Backman (alto sax, clarinet), Tobias Sondén (bass), Fredrik Hamrå (drums), Joel Wästberg (tenor sax), Markus Ahlberg (trombone) and guest: Mariam Wallentin (vocal).
This album is Self-Produced.
Klabbes Bank – Kålsäter
What came next was the 2007 release Kålsäter. The immediate impression it makes over its predecessor is of a greater presence. The expressions are bolder and brimming with confidence. And all throughout the recording are huge melodic pronouncements, sung out with a certain gravity indicative more of substantive depth than pro forma dramatics. Furthermore, the rhythms are crisper, punctuated not for the sake of force but decisiveness.
The album opens right up with a dramatic melodicism, showing more control over their ferocity than displayed on their debut… which enhances the melodic sweetness now. “Dina vackra lockar, min tomma lägenhet” is the sound of heartbreak. Soft piano phrases lead into some strongly expressive saxophone parts, digging deep.
“Gondolen” is all about the party-time demeanor that carries a contemplative mood just behind its smile. The foot-stomping jaunty cadence is juxtaposed against the long, gliding strokes of wind instruments calling out the melody, sometimes with a quiet roar, sometimes as the gentlest coo.
“Mellanspel” dives into melancholy waters, whereas “I Protest” shows that their strong sense of melody is retained even when they rise up and shout. They layer loudness atop loudness, but with a discernment that allow the melodicism to cut right through the thick of it and to the bone. “Sovlåt” hints at a stately dance, a formal affair designed loosely.
The album is marked by shifting tides of intensity. “Kålsäters äng” moves slowly, inching ahead, creeping forward, followed by the pounding grind of “I Love You,” which screams and roars the melody out… no less beautiful for its rage, the melody handled no less deftly either. This is followed by the soft moonlight of “Inte krig,” a song that has the boozy sonority of last call neighborhood bars. “Ta taratta” is a rare moment of truly free improv. Shrieking, skronking and a series of jabs and body blows that somehow develop into a parade march dance.
And just like on their debut album, Kålsäter ends with a sole vocal track, the lullaby “Vatten.” It’s a nice way to look back to their past as the band develops into something new.
Your album personnel: Klas-Henrik Hörngren (piano, vocals), Joel Wästberg (alto & tenor saxes), Thomas Backman (alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Magnus Wiklund (trombone), Tobias Sondén (bass) and Fredrik Hamrå (drums).
Released on Imogena Records.
Klabbes Bank – Je Suis La Mer
The thing about their 2009 release Je Suis la Mer that really defines this album as a step up from previous albums is how the group uses the same ingredients as past albums but provides the expressions with stronger defining characteristics. The songs are put together with a greater craftsmanship. The ensemble gels. Even when a song is given a hazy shape and scattered pattern, it’s presented in sharp focus. The ensemble is really coming into its own. Kålsäter was their new sound taking form. Je Suis la Mer is that vision manifesting in its entirety.
It opens much like Kålsäter did. “Yngre” has the contemplative piano and the impatient tapping of percussion and the moody saxophone. The melody drips from the song like candle wax, a flickering light that echoes off all the dark walls. And the strong imagery is given a vivid presentation… the shape of the melody possesses a sharp outline and the colors that fill in the shapes are bold and self-assured. The tempo lights a path that keeps within sight, even when the music grows unpredictable.
“Det Brinner Inte Längre” is pure, undistilled melancholia, radiating an inner serenity when it expresses the melody like a firm pronouncement, a strong, simple statement.
The title-track is full-on celebratory. The shuffle and sway of its cadence invokes a sense of the days of swing, and its catchy melody is built to stick around. It leads in nicely to the up-tempo “Cowboyhäst,” which scoots right along at a brisk pace and a melody that, like its predecessor, has staying power.
“Sju” is Klabbes Bank in classic form, illustrating how heartbreak and hopefulness can form a single expression. It’s the face of sadness or sunny days, depending on your perspective in that instant. Its unifying trait is its sheer beauty. That they are able to follow it up with the whimsical “Elg” and make that transition sound practically logical in the flow of emotions is a tribute to their craftsmanship, and as good a sign as any of their maturity as an ensemble over the course of three albums.
Breaking from tradition, the final track, “På Natten I Norge Nån Gång” is strictly instrumental. It’s an ambient blues, a boozy sonority that speaks of the last of the moonlight before the sun rises, the last of the whiskey before the tavern’s neon signs flicker off. It’s a beautiful way of ending the album. And its break from tradition is nothing like what their next album pulls off.
Your album personnel: Klas-Henrik Hörngren (keyboards), Thomas Backman (alto sax, bass clarinet, clarinet), Tobias Sondén (bass, guitar), Magnus Wiklund (trombone), Joel Wästberg (alto & tenor saxes) and Martin Öhman (drums, electronics). Pretty much everyone in the band contributes to the percussion effort at some point on the album.
Released on Hoob Records.
Klabbes Bank – Protect the Forest
On their 2013 release Protect the Forest, Klabbes Bank broke from past form and began moving in a new direction… kind of. Whereas previous recordings were tiny melodic bundles of heartbreak and sunshine, on Protect the Forest, the songs manifest with a sweeping grandeur and rhythmic intensity that take root with a heavy utilization of electronics and effects. This isn’t something that was necessarily frowned upon previously, but the use is more pronounced and widespread, and it’s the closest, by far, that the band has strayed to a Jazz-electronica fusion. This, however, wasn’t a sea change for the band. Their debut hinted at this direction ten years earlier, it’s just the sound was more organic, less electronic. Protect the Forest swings dramatically in the opposite direction.
I won’t go into the album any further. Follow this LINK to my original recommendation of the album, where I go through it track by track.
But I will say that it did mark a big departure for Klabbes Bank from previous albums. They continued to use the ingredients of happiness and heartbreak, potent melodicism and sharp tempos, but the ultimate form given those elements was a relatively surprising development, though not an unwelcome one. There was a risk of stagnation, of the profound become formulaic, and Klabbes Bank sidestepped that outcome quite deftly.
Your album personnel: Joel Wästberg (alto sax), Thomas Backman (alto sax, clarinets), Magnus Wiklund (trombone), Klas-Henrik Hörngren (keyboards), Jacob Öhrvall (bass), and Martin Öhman (drums, electronics).
Released on Hoob Records.
Klabbes Bank albums available at: eMusic – Amazon
Klabbes Bank has a new album coming out. Titled simply Z, it shows that the changes embodied by Protect the Forest were neither a one-shot deal nor an end-point. I’ll be publishing a recommendation of that album soon, so be sure to check back in.
In the meantime, go to my Facebook page to check out a brief promo video for the album.
(Sorry, couldn’t figure out how to embed a Facebook vid in this post)