May 21 2012
It seems like the last few years have seen an increase in jazz albums that venture deep into folk territory. Sometimes it manifests as the American Bluegrass of the Midwest plains and Appalachian mountains, but also has been derived from various geographical Old Folk music strains. And sometimes, it’s just a generalized lazy back porch guitar sense of the word Folk. Standout examples (to name just a few) that come to mind are Julian Lage‘s Gladwell, Jeremy Udden‘s Plainville, Simone Guiducci‘s That’s All Folks, and Motian Sickness‘s For the Love of Sarah. You can now add guitarist Daniel Ogren‘s Laponia to the list of outstanding jazz folk albums.
All forms of music possess certain essential ingredients for the music and inherent risks for the musician, each specific to its own genre. For Folk, it’s one of Simple Man Genuineness, of common wisdom earned through common hardships. And the notes of the song have to be like the dirt… a sense of their age, the power to tell a tale if one only puts their ear to the ground and listens. Lacking that, the music is likely to sound pretentious and the artists to be viewed as duplicitous. The best way to get there is fearless honesty, unabashed openness… here is what I know and how I learned it and what it means to me. It’s not so much a heart-on-the-sleeve thing as it is an unlocked door and a welcome mat that means it. The best folk music is something that the listener never has to buy into.
Thankfully, Ogren seems to get this. There is a sincerity to this music that eclipses its simplicity, a priceless quality that is important to any type of music, irrelevant of genre. But since Laponia falls more into folk territory than jazz, the importance of that sincerity is elevated.
Let’s talk about that music…
Ogren mixes in the earthy guitar and percussion of folk music with soaring piano and bass clarinet of jazz, and lavishes it with alluring flourishes of keyboards and electronics. The sound is emblematic of the mountain range and massive skies of Northern Sweden that were Ogren’s home and inspiration for the album.
The staccato march of acoustic guitar and drums gets juxtaposed against the lullaby flight of bass and piano, with bass clarinet the seam that binds those opposing elements into one sound. Opening track “Vandringssång” sets the tone of earth and air, mountain and sky, that bleeds through the entire album.
There are moments when the eerie clavioline sings like night creatures, unseen, in the forest. Majestic interludes, like thick rays of moonlight breaking through dark cloudy skies, accentuate the beauty of other tracks.
Even tracks that announce a greater jazz presence aren’t afraid to drift away to seek out a new resting place. “The Cowbell” has a hop and stagger pattern that opens with a jazz bounce which eventually transitions into downward spirals of increasing tempo, notes trailing behind, scattered in all directions.
And where some tracks serenely drift out of sight, with others, like the thrilling piano sojourn “Bjorkar,” there is a palpable sense of “lifting off” as the tune gains volume and intensity. “Njulla,” which follows right on its heels, further imbues the album with an exhilarating sense of flight.
It’s a nice group effort (as all solid albums have to be, really), but I’d like to point out the outstanding contribution of Nils Berg, who gives the album a haunting beauty. Berg’s name is going to be getting mentioned here quite a bit over the next few months as I give the rundown on several albums on which he collaborates.
Ogren shows plenty of promise as a recording jazz artist, and Laponia is an album you can trust.
Your album personnel: Daniel Ogren (guitar, church organ, clavioline), Nils Berg (bass clarinet), Gunnar Åkerhielm (piano), Andreas Henningsson (bass), and Christopher Cantillo (drums).
Released on the Hoob Records label.
Jazz from the Stockholm scene.
Visit the artist’s site.
Available at: Amazon