Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival, 2023

This year the usual haunts hosted jazz now haunting, now swinging, including Jan Garbarek, Kyle Eastwood, Bill Charlap and Jan Lundgren

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Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival 2023. Clockwise from top left: Isabella Lundgren, Kyle Eastwood (photos by Markus Fagersten), Jan Garbarek group (Harri Paavolainen) and Vincent Peirani (M. Fagersten)

Unlike so many other jazz festivals based just around one main venue and a couple of satellites, the Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival (YSJF) is a festival that makes the town vibrate with jazz for four consecutive days. From a parade on the streets on the opening day to restaurants, bars and churches crowded with jazz aficionados, it has nine different venues hosting gigs of all kinds. As to the main jazz temple, it is and always will be the historic Ystads Teater, a well-preserved 19th-century building with 400 seats.

There are projects worth waiting for, even after 14 years (because the YSJF was never cancelled, not even in 2020 and 2021). So, on the opening night, the Ystads Teater welcomed Jan Garbarek’s quartet for the first time in the history of the festival. The Norwegian saxophonist has long partnered with maestro Trilok Gurtu, who brought along his impressive set of percussion of all kinds. While the Indian percussionist is an essential member of the band, the other two members of the quartet are top-notch musicians as well, namely Yuri Daniel on bass and Rainer Brüninghaus on keyboards. Garbarek led his all-star crew for a two-hour gig – a feature of the YSJF is to present full-length concerts that always end with an encore – allowing each member to impress the audience with an outstanding solo.

Following such a remarkable concert, it was time to cool down a bit with a solo performance in Klosterkyrkan, the 13th-century monastery. There, Martinique-born pianist Gregory Privat brought a captivated audience into his own world, taking the time in between pieces to explain the source of his inspiration. The pandemic has reminded us of the importance of the audience and Gregory Privat was genuinely impressed with the exchange he got with the crowd for this late-night gig that ended around midnight.

In between Garbarek and Privat’s performances, the watchman tower tradition dating back to 1748 was kept alive at 10pm sharp, with trumpeter Angela Strandberg playing a standard from the top of the tower. Before climbing the 107 narrow steps, and thus perpetuating the festival’s own tradition to send a musician up there every year, she and had been playing in the afternoon through the old streets of the town.

If last year the spirit of Ennio Morricone was floating in the air, notably thanks to Grégoire Maret who was introducing his upcoming Morricone project to be released soon on ACT Music, the maestro’s music was back this year as well, this time through Kyle Eastwood’s tribute to his father’s impressive filmography. As we all know, Clint Eastwood became famous for his roles in the spaghetti western films for which Morricone wrote the film scores. It therefore came as no surprise to hear a jazz arrangement of A Fistful Of Dollars. As part of the last gig of their summer tour, Kyle Eastwood’s quintet also honoured the great John Williams and Lalo Schifrin. Since Kyle and his father collaborated on the film score of Gran Torino, that music was featured as well, as was a Charlie Parker tune, referring of course to Eastwood’s biopic about the legendary saxophonist.

Before this great homage emphasising the importance of music for cinema, gypsy jazz guitarist Gustav Lundgren briefly honoured Ennio Morricone’s music for Cinema Paradiso, coincidentally in the same place (Klosterkyrkan) where Rosario Giuliani and Luciano Biondini had played last year as part of their Cinema Italia project. Together with French guitar player Remi Oswald and double bass player Edouard Pennes, the trio mostly played a repertoire made famous by Django Reinhardt.

If Ennio Morricone is undeniably one of Italy’s greatest film composers, Krzysztof Komeda is the most celebrated Polish jazz and film composer. Who else than Marcin Wasilewski to pay the best tribute to Komeda’s music and by the same token commemorate Roman Polanski’s famous Rosemary’s Baby from 1968 and his 1962 thriller Knife In The Water? For his Komeda tribute featured on Friday afternoon at Ystads Teater, the Polish pianist chose the quintet format which, apart from Swedish saxophonist Joakim Milder, consisted of his usual Polish companions. This Swedish-Polish connection acts as a reminder of the lengthy collaboration between Komeda and saxophonist Bernt Rosengren, who passed away recently at the age of 85. Just as this collaboration was certainly fruitful for both sides, the nearly 30 years where Marcin Wasilewski played with Tomasz Stanko have certainly helped the pianist to establish himself at the forefront of European jazz. No wonder that YSJF artistic director Jan Lundgren selected him for this year’s edition.

Jan was also enthusiastic about inviting US pianist Bill Charlap. The 57-year-old pianist, who is actually the same age as Jan, loves to play standards from the Great American Songbook and he truly did a great job with his trio when he aligned them in a precise manner that left no place for misinterpretation but still allowed enough room for improvisation.

Apart from composers, lyricists have also had a key role to play in the film industry, particularly in the golden era of Hollywood musicals. For the only gig hosted at the beautiful premises of Sta Maria Kyrka, vocalist Isabella Lundgren, together with chamber orchestra Musica Vitae and pianist Carl Bagge, paid tribute to the great American lyricist Dorothy Fields whose career spanned close to 50 years. With a catalogue of more than 400 songs, it must have been hard for the Swedish vocalist to select the pieces she would play, apart, of course, from the song that made the lyricist famous in the first place. Before singing The Way She Looked Tonight, Lundgren reminded us of the initial collaboration between Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern for the 1936 musical Swing Time and the Oscar she got for best composition. As the concert was coming to an end with Sunny Side Of The Street, I couldn’t help but gaze through the stained-glass windows to catch a glimpse of the sun that luckily shone through the entire festival.

It was time then to return to Ystads Teater to enjoy Jan Lundgren’s duo with countryman bassist Hans Backenroth. The duo was presenting their recent release on ACT Music, the aptly named Jazz Poetry. Although the two Swedes have known each other for quite some time, it is their first recording as a duo. In the footsteps of a tradition initiated by Jan Johansson in the 1960s, they played an arrangement of a traditional Swedish folk song named Gardsjanta. Jan Johansson played with all the American luminaries visiting Sweden at the time and one of those was double-bass player Oscar Pettiford whose famous piece Tricotism was also featured that evening. They followed with NHOP’s My Little Anna and ended with W.A. Mozart’s Lacrimosa from his Requiem, arranged by Jan Lundgren.

Two days after Gregory Privat’s solo, another Frenchman mesmerised the religiously seated crowd at Klosterkyrkan. Starting his solo performance with his own Choral, the accordionist Vincent Peirani moved on with what he called a family suite made of the tunes he wrote for his two children (Enzo and Izao) and his wife, nicknamed Nouchka. Unlike Privat, Peirani rarely plays solo gigs, a fact that made his outstanding performance that day even greater. Just as Choral first appeared on his 2013 album Thrill Box, so did the cover of the traditional Shenandoah which he played both with accordina and accordeon. It made me wonder whether Deborah Brown, a native of Kansas City, would also be tempted to play that famous Missouri tune later with Jan Lundgren. The answer was negative. Throughout his impeccable concert, the barefoot giant enchanted the audience, be it with his own material or his takes on standards, such as the much celebrated Bebe by Egberto Gismonti.

All good things must unfortunately come to an end and time it was for Jan Lundgren’s trio to close the 2023 YSJF edition with vocalist Deborah Brown who, as he explained, was a source of inspiration in the early part of his career when he had the chance to play with her. Starting the set with East Of The Sun, beautifully interpreted in a way that was a bit reminiscent of Ella Fitzgerald, her carefully selected repertoire kept the audience focused until the very last moment. It was only then that she got rid of her shoes, which seemed to have been unbearable to wear from the start. Before joining the barefoot artists’ club that this year included Peirani and Rhoda Scott, she had played closely with bassist Mattias Svensson and drummer Zoltan Csörsz, not forgetting of course her duo with Jan Lundgren for a reprise of Hoagy Carmichael’s The Nearness Of You. “There are such good vibes here” she said, before performing an encore. And that’s why 8,000 people attended the festival and 10 concerts were sold out.

The people of Ystad seem to live happily in their beautiful town, including those residing in the cute, tiny houses opposite the theatre. As the sun is slowly descending, flocks of wild geese fly over the roofs of the old city. Who knows, they might be on their way to another jazz festival, quite possibly the Gaume Jazz Festival where I’m heading next?