I had to miss Ystad this year. Friends tell me that the sun shone throughout the festival which, affected and reduced by Covid as it was, sold out all of its (restricted seating) concerts, involving 3000 patrons in all. The general consensus was that this most welcome return to live music was an unqualified success, with the far-ranging breadth and depth of the music very much in the Ystad tradition: see the Jazz Journal preview for more details.
With the return to live audiences, last year’s 10 streamed concerts (reviewed in August 2020) were reduced to two. Sod’s Law saw to it that, because of a poor Internet connection at my end, I missed the first of these. “Stories No One Has Heard” had Isabella Lundgren (v) and Emil Fredberg (v) fronting an exciting brand new aggregation, the Scandinavian Jazz Orchestra. This featured many of the most in-demand Swedish musicians of today, such as Mårtin Lundgren (t), Karolina Almgren (s) and Cornelia Nilsson (d). Received with full-on enthusiasm, this debut performance from the SJO will in all likelihood eventually be made available on the festival’s YouTube site.
By the time of the second streamed concert, which came later in the evening of the same Friday, all was well with my connection. Which was just as well, because if I had missed the “Lockrop” session featuring the festival’s artistic director Jan Lundgren (p) and Georg Riedel (b) I might just have done something regrettable to a piece or two of furniture.
Three months and a few days short of his 87th birthday, Riedel had not touched his bass for well over six months and had expressed his concern to Lundgren about whether his capacity to play would be up to the mark. In the event, Riedel played (pizzicato) superbly throughout a 75-minute concert distinguished by an enticing quality of light and shade, blending deliciously turned and varied rhythms with both a spare, folk-like lyricism and no little harmonic elegance.
Lundgren – in typically spot-on form throughout and clearly delighted to see a live audience again in his home town – introduced pieces with a brief but telling contextualisation in both English and Swedish, while Riedel offered the occasional, sometimes gently humorous comment. The special rapport between the pair was such that the audience would have had the evening continue forever. But after several rapturously received encores, Riedel had every right to indicate to Lundgren, as he quietly did, that his fingers really did need a rest.
An emigrant to Sweden from his native Czechoslovakia when he was but four years old, Riedel has long acquired living-legend status: he was guest of honour at the 2021 festival. Best known for his collaboration with pianist Jan Johansson on the quietly mesmeric Jazz På Svenska duo album recorded in the early-to-mid-60s, as well as his writing for the Astrid Lindgren repertoire, Riedel is a musician and composer of consummate quality and range. A recipient of, for example, The Lars Gullin Prize and appointed Master of Jazz by France’s Django d’Or Jury, he has to his credit numerous works for opera, ballet, poetry, musicals, films and choirs.
If you don’t know it, it’s well worth tracking down the electrifying music for contemporary dance that is the 1967 Riedaiglia – the title an acronym of the names of Riedel and leading African-American choreographer Alvin Bailey. The Swedish Radio Jazz Group is featured, with contributions from Arne Domnérus (as), Jan Johansson and a young Jan Garbarek among others, plus some wildly exciting writing for voices. Also exceptional is Riedel’s chamber music work of the 1980s with Jan Allan (t), Bengt Hallberg (p) and the sextet that is the Uppsala Chamber Soloists, documented on the Trio Con Tromba four-CD boxed-set retrospective released by VAX Records in 2012.
When Jan Lundgren released The Ystad Concert, the superb 2016 tribute to Jan Johansson which he delivered with Mattias Svensson (b) and the Bonfiglioli String Quartet, Riedel contributed a relatively short but telling sleeve note. He observed of Lundgren: “He even dares to play the same notes as Jan Johansson, and still it sounds different. You immediately know that it is Jan Lundgren and not Jan Johansson. That is how it was with Johansson as well. A few notes and you could hear who was playing.”
And so it was here. Featuring several classic pieces like Visa Från Utanmyra from the sparely cast and folk-rinsed, rhythmically and tonally intriguing Jazz På Svenska, Lundgren and Riedel also got plenty mellow, blue and funky (as did Jan Johansson in his time, in his own thoughtful and distinctive way). This was especially so in Blues For Jan Johansson and an invigorating reading of a piece by Reinhold Svensson (1920-68), for many years a regular pianist with clarinettist Putte Wickman.
Lundgren’s own, harmonically compelling Looking Back explored a much more reflective or meditative ballad ethos and there were further distinctive originals from Riedel, including the very differently pitched Night Thoughts and Arne – the latter a tribute to Riedel’s long-time collaborator and bandleader, alto saxophonist Arne Domnérus (1924-2008). Incidentally, if you are an avid fan of the work of Domnérus, it’s worth going to a lot of trouble to get Göran Wallén’s Swedish language Arne Domnérus from 2016 (contact firstname.lastname@example.org). Even if you don’t have a word of Swedish, the extraordinary richness of the research, illustrations and discography will amply repay your attention.
There are many, many things for which to be grateful to Georg Riedel. The fact that he made the commitment to respond to Lundgren’s’ invitation to participate in what turned out to be yet another magical and memorable Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival concert is but the latest evidence of a life devoted to music at the highest level. Thank you, Jan Lundgren! Thank you, Georg Riedel!