Saxophones are overrated. The idea that every serious jazz group must have one is as clichéd as the rock guitar. Packing more than one or two into a small band suggests a lack of imagination (and don’t get me started on saxophone quartets).
So many instruments are suited to playing jazz, even un-exotic ones. The flute, for instance, has been sadly neglected in recent years, besides Chip Wickham, Nicole Mitchell – and thankfully Jonas Kullhammar of Koma Saxo.
This three-sax band, led by bassist Petter Eldh, expand their palette on their third album, following last year’s raucous live album. The Nordic/German group’s nuanced new sound draws on guests including Lucy Railton and Maria Reich on strings and Kiki Eldh (Petter’s mother) on accordion.
The most dramatic addition is Ethiopian-born Swedish vocalist Sofia Jernberg. With a multi-octave range and mastery across many genres, she’s the most extraordinary singer to emerge on the Nordic scene in years. Effortlessly swooping to superhuman Yma Sumac high notes, Aster Aweke ululations and Diamanda Galás theatricality, she drops suddenly into a traditional Swedish folk style on the mid-60s Närhet before going off on a spacey vocalise star trek.
This expanded line-up of talent pushes bandleader Eldh to a new level as arranger and studio wizard. He splices dancefloor grooves, electronics, found sounds and strings into the band’s post-bop/free-jazz DNA. On catchy singles like Koma Kaprifol and Croydon Koma, shuffling hip-hop beats are enlivened by chirpy keyboards and Jernberg’s vocals. The woozy Saxo Chop nods to the “chopped and screwed” remix style. The results sound fresh, not gimmicky.
Guest pianist Kit Downes shines on the opening track, which is closer to Steve Reich/Philip Glass minimalism than his jazzier new ECM album, which prominently features Eldh.
This is daringly experimental music, yet never chin-strokingly so. Rather there’s a bright spring mood throughout, and plenty of nooks and crannies to get lost in.
Lo Ve Ko Ma; Croydon Koma; Koma Krig; Flamman; Lake Koma; Koma Kaprifol; Ostron Accordion; Klippan Granit; Koma Rail; Närhet; Koma Fred; Saxo Chop; Clos Eko; Koma Camu (37.23)
Petter Eldh (b, sampler, p, pc); Sofia Jernberg (v); Christian Lillinger (d); Otis Sandsjö (ts, acl); Jonas Kullhammar (ts, f, slide sax); Mikko Innanen (as, sps); Lucy Railton (clo); Maria Reich (vn); Kiki Eldh (acc); Kit Downes (p). Stockholm and Berlin, 2021.