The Safety Net: The Stoner – “Hat Music”


The Stoner - "Hat Music"Nils Berg is one of those musicians to be sure to keep in touch with.  He moves from project to project, collaboration to collaboration, and each time it results in some very rewarding music.

His Cinemascope ensemble released the fascinating Popmotion in 2011, a collage of live jazz performance and found sound on the internet [review here].  It featured Berg’s languorous Swedish Jazz expressions juxtaposed against a vast array of other musics, intuitively finding the commonalities between each while accentuating the beauty of the contrasts.

And then there’s his participation on Oskar Schonning‘s excellent 2012 release The Violin [review here], which paired up old-school bop and modern Nordic Jazz… not blending the two, but simply transitioning back and forth, and concocting an engrossing transitional flow that was more than a bit mesmerizing.  Berg also collaborated with Daniel Ogren, on his excellent 2011 release Laponia [review here], a folk-jazz recording that leaned heavily to the former of those influences and allowed the latter’s lightness and versatility to provide some lift to the folk music’s ear-to-the-soil sound.

And then there’s his project The Stoner.  Their 2009 release Hat Music is a lovely example of how the languorous expressions of Nordic Jazz can possess a life and electricity that is anything but sleepy, while doing nothing to endanger the mesmerizing spell cast by this style of music.

Your album personnel:  Nils Berg (tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute), Jonas Östholm (piano), Nils Ölmedal (bass), and Jon Fält (drums).

The album opens with the mournful tones of “I Skogen,” emitting a strange, but comforting warmth, triggered primarily by Berg’s bass clarinet, and accentuating the essential role that regional folk music plays in a Nordic Jazz recording.  It’s a tone that contrasts with the upbeat “Voodoo Girl,” with its chipper rhythms and a melody that’s all sunshine.  Title track “Hat Music” doesn’t stray far from this formula, with all four quartet members contributing to the development of this jaunty tune.

“Något Bortom Bergen” has a slow drifting ambiance interspersed with bursts of energy and rises in temperature.  Berg is out front on this tune, but its success is the result of the way Falt shepherds the tune on drums.  “Wood Wood” adopts a similar pattern with a charming melody and percussion that maintains an amicable conversational tone.  On piano, Ostholm runs some playfully staggered lines over top of the rhythm section.

The up-tempo tune “Sport” features nifty interplay between Falt and Ostholm on drums and piano, whereas the deep tones of Berg’s bass clarinet and Olmedal’s bass resonate strongest on the tranquil “Far Och Son.”  But on their rollicking rendition of West Side Story’s “The Jet Song,” the quartet comes together as one, taking turns in the spotlight, yet still working in unison.

The album ends with the moody “Mitt Svenska Hjärta,” a tune with a dreamy presence, and emitting that same distant, yet comforting warmth of album opener “I Skogen,” bringing the album full circle to its conclusion.

A beautiful, mesmerizing recording that crackles with life at just the right moments.

Released in 2009 on the Hoob Records label.

Jazz from the Stockholm, Sweden scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3 | Amazon CD