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Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival 2020

The lightly locked-down Sweden managed to put on a 2020 Ystad Jazz Festival including appearances by Scott Hamilton and Jan Lundgren

Well, this was certainly something different. I didn’t go to Ystad this year. Instead, the Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival, which ran from 30 July to 2 August, came to me – as it did for many thousands of enthusiasts, courtesy of Internet streaming. Given the Covid-19 situation, it was something of a miracle that Ystad 2020 took place at all. It did so triumphantly, under the continuing inspired leadership of indefatigable festival president Thomas Lantz and artistic director Jan Lundgren, with the co-operation of Musik I Syd CEO Susanne Rydén.

Travel and health factors understandably necessitated a concentration on Swedish musicians. If I found the very popular concert by the big and well-loved names Nils Landgren (tb, v), Johan Norberg (g, v) and Ida Sand (p, v) a touch disappointing, the audience – which because of Covid-19 considerations was restricted to 50 people, as with all the concerts – clearly did not share my reservations about Landgren’s English vocals, which for me can approach the anodyne. Pieces like Straighten Up And Fly Right shone, but I would have happily traded fewer vocals for more extensive examples of Landgren’s vibrant trombone flurries and flourishes. I also didn’t care that much for all the guitar tuning and stage chat which went on – and was really surprised to witness a couple of brief instances of memory loss on the part of two of the participants. But there were also some magnetic moments, as in parts of What’s Going On? and Is Your Voodoo Working? where the soul-and-gospel-inspired Sand came into her own.

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Overall, I found the dominant Swedish strain in this year’s festival very much to my liking. This was so whether it involved the assured, now reflective, now up and affirmative vocals – and high-quality scat and vocalese – of Elisabeth Melander’s JazzAppear set with her tasty quintet of Fredrik Davidsson (t), Inge Peterson Lindbäck (ts), Håkan Rydin (p), Göran Schelin (b) and Lars Beijbom (d) or the (at times) minimalist-inflected grooves and musings of the Post-sun-vision Trio concert from Alice Hernqvist (p), Aaron Mandelmann (b) and Mario Ochoa (d).

The overall quality of matters Swedish was epitomised by the opening, tough and fusion-kicked but also modally sprung, now texturally atmospheric, now fiercely swinging Debut by the vastly experienced Anders “ Chico” Lindvall (elg) and his quintet. This featured the excellent Håkon Broström (as, ss) and Jacob Karlzon (p, kyb) in both coruscating and poetically pitched mode, underpinned by the equally impressive Johnny Åman (elb, b) and Paul Svanberg (d). Lindvall also played in the very different context of a Chet Baker tribute concert at Solhällan, Löderup, a few kilometres outside Ystad, with Jan Sigurd (p, v), Anna-Lena Brundin (v), Erik Tengholm (t) and Lasse Lundström (b).

Very different from but no less arresting than Lindvall’s Debut gig, a shape-shifting sax and clarinet-fuelled set from Joakim Milder, Per “Texas” Johansson & Fredrik Ljungkvist, Mathias Landæus (p), Åman (b) and Cornelia Nilsson (d) offered sparely wrought ad libitum material by Charles Ives as well as some richly crafted and rhythmically adventurous pieces from Johansson and Ljungkvist, including the title track from Ljungkvist’s recent and excellent Atlantis album.

Fredrik Lindborg’s Spirit of Sweden – Music of Lars Gullin. Photo © Markus Fägersten

Best of all for me was Spirit of Sweden – Music of Lars Gullin by Fredrik Lindborg (bar, ts, ss) with Martin Sjöstedt (b) and Daniel Fredriksson (d) complemented by the perfectly attuned string quartet of Daniel Migdal (vn), Henrik Naimark Meyers (vn), Ylva-Li Zilliacus (vla) and Sabina Sandri Olsson (clo). Covid-19 had meant that the scheduled release concert in Stockholm for Lindborg’s A Swedish Portrait Gullin album (Prophone: Swedish Jazz PCD201) had had to be cancelled. So this Ystad concert was the first time that this music had been played live.

Largely drawing from the material on the album (and with Olsson taking the place of the album’s Amalie Stalheim on cello), the concert was an absolute triumph, with the thoughtfully conceived dynamics and textural range of the exquisitely pitched interaction of jazz trio and string quartet of the highest order. Fresh life was breathed into a range of Gullin classics, including the strings-only Mazurka, Galium Verum, Merlin, Fine Together, Holy Grail, Late Date, MA, Decent Eyes, Toka Voka Oka Boka, Be Careful and Danny’s Dream. The fluid breadth and depth of melancholic tone and liquid cast of phrase in Gullin’s folk-inflected yet harmonically subtle, classically limned work was fully respected, even as it was made new. But so too was the robust swinging affirmation often evident in the master’s poetics, with Lindborg’s tenor in particular displaying some refreshing bluesy grit and grain. I can’t recommend viewing this concert – and hearing A Swedish Portrait – highly enough.

If Swedish musicians dominated this year’s events, there was also some welcome representation of first-class neighbouring Danish jazz. This included Oilly Wallace (as), Jacob Christoffersen (p) and Thomas Fonnesbaek (b), all of whom participated in a vibrant Charlie Parker 100 Years concert led by Swedish saxophonist and arranger Karl–Martin Almqvist, with Amanda Sedgwick (as), Anders Bergcrantz (t), Vivian Buzek (v) and Zoltan Csörsz (d) also contributing strongly to classic Parker pieces such as Yardbird Suite.

Danish drummer Kristian Leth supplied tasty drive and texture for an engagingly melodic, mellow and diversely swinging concert from The Jan Lundgren / Scott Hamilton Quintet with Ulf Wakenius (elg) and Hans Backenroth (b), which featured the Quincy Jones classic Stockholm Sweetnin’ as well as a range of folk-touched material from Sweden and Denmark. And that fine Danish pianist and composer Kathrine Windfeld contributed crisply sprung lines to the delightful Sisters of Jazz concert. Here, in the spot-on company of Pernille Bévort (ts), Liz Wessberg (tb), Ida Hvid (b) and Benita Haastrup (d), the Peggy Lee-inspired Anna Pauline (v) introduced and performed a welcome, wide-ranging tribute to female jazz players and lyricists, including Lee and ranging from Lil Hardin Armstrong and Mary Lou Williams to Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marian McPartland, Ann Ronelle and Ruth Lowe.

Emile Parisien at Ystad 2020. Photo © Markus Fägersten

German drummer Wolfgang Haffner, who shone in the 4 Wheel Drive concert at the 2019 festival, had been advertised as appearing in the concluding trio concert with Jan Lundgren and Lars Danielsson (b). In the event, his place was taken by soprano saxophonist Emile Parisien from France, whose patiently pitched and characterfully delivered lines contributed greatly to an outstanding, lyrically rich concert. Lundgren was in typically surpassing form, while Danielsson (long a stalwart of the Ystad festival) fused melody and rhythm, reflection and momentum in the most magnetic manner: there was a wonderful rendition of his lovely, lilting Folk Song (To All Children) from his 1991 Dragon album Poems. Apart from his delicious range of soprano figures, Parisien conjured some special floating passages of judiciously generated, electronically enhanced texture and atmosphere. Lundgren – who like Danielsson had not worked with Parisien before – was so impressed by the Frenchman that he immediately invited him to next year’s festival with his own Parisian quartet.

Although Ystad 2020 was reduced considerably from the near-40 concerts of 2019, the combined commitment of Ystad Sweden Jazz and long-time partners Musik I Syd ensured that, thanks to the live streaming of 10 concerts from the classic indoor venues Ystads Teater and Ystad Saltsjöbad, even these eerily disturbing and oppressive times could not stop Ystad going global. All 10 concerts are now available on the festival website and YouTube (Google: Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival 2020). So JJ readers can make up their own minds about what I experienced as a typically uplifting Ystad blend of the contemporary and the historical, the straightahead and the innovative, the mellow and the provocative.

The quality of the filming for the live streaming was consistently excellent, with an astute blend of wide-spectrum and close-up, straight-on and angled shots, the whole underpinned by a consummate command of the key factors of duration and transition of shot and overall rhythm of (real-time) montage. If you would like to experience the music in the order in which it was presented, the sequence is: Debut by the Chico Lindvall Quintet; Scott Hamilton / Jan Lundgren Quintet featuring Ulf Wakenius; Joakim Milder, Per “Texas” Johansson & Fredrik Ljungkvist with the Mathias Landaeus Trio; Sisters of Jazz; Spirit of Sweden – Music of Lars Gullin; Charlie Parker 100 Years; Elisabeth Melander & JazzAppear; Post-sun-vision Trio; Nils Landgren and Johan Norberg with Ida Sand; Jan Lundgren, Lars Danielsson and Emile Parisien. Full details of personnel are screened at the end of the concerts, each of which is prefaced by a brief panoramic introduction to both Ystad’s picturesque charms and the sweeping beauty of the Baltic coast, with accompanying music by Jan Lundgren.

Apart from these streamed events, the festival profiled Next Generation jazz in Sweden, again with some significant Danish input. Appreciable financial reward went to 15 of the musicians thanks to the efforts of Jan Lundgren in setting up an Ystad Jazz Festival “Next Generation” award scheme. Concerts at the charming outdoor venue which is Hos Mortens Café featured a range of artists, including Dina Grundberg (v), Linnea Jonsson (t), Ima Baeza Bilgin (p), Niklas Bergström (p) and Johanna Pettersson (v). There was also the traditional JazzKidz slot and Dan Bornemark (v, p), Hjördis Bornemark (v), Signe Bornemark (v), Björn Claesen (f, reeds, g) and Bengt Badtoft Johnson (d) gave a light-hearted family concert at Ystads Bibliotek. Underlining Ystad’s admirable commitment to its local community, Gitte Pålsson (v), Ulf Holmström (reeds), Rolf Olsson (b) and Hjallis Persson (g) played three outdoor concerts for the residents of various elderly care facilities in the area.

Visual art has always played a strong role at Ystad and this year was no exception. The pop and graffiti-inspired photographer and multi-media artist Karl Valve (born 1978) supplied a striking, ice-blue cover image for the 25pp virtual festival brochure and exhibited his work at Galley M1 at Hotel Continental in the centre of Ystad from 25 July to 7 August.

As I said, Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival 2020 was certainly something different. But at Ystad, one crucial thing remains constant: quality. Congratulations must go to each and every one of the many people who worked so hard to make this year’s festival happen, in a most timely demonstration of the power of the human spirit at its best. Long live Ystad!

All the Ystad 2020 concerts can be seen in the video gallery at the YstadSwedenJazzFestival website – ystadjazz.se

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