For nearly 40 years, the densely-packed Copenhagen Jazz Festival has been a bold calendar marker on the European jazz festival scene. From the younger, smaller up-and-comer corner of that scene—and that global vicinity—the jazz fest compass tilts slightly northward in early August, an hour’s drive from Copenhagen (thanks to the Øresund Bridge between Denmark and Sweden) to the idyllic Medieval southern Swedish town of Ystad (pronounced, roughly, “UH-stad”). Here, the eighth annual Ystad Jazz Festival lived up to the ample promise laid out in past editions, with an accessible, rich program and a new attendance record, which bumped up past the 10,000-attendee mark.
Ystad’s festival, led by noted Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren, is modest by comparison to larger urban festivals, but also offers a densely-packed program for anyone willing to take in the fullness of its menu. Shows start at 11 a.m. in the 12th-century vintage Per Helsas Gård and run past midnight at the central Ystads Teater (home to such headliners as unplugged fusioneers Al DiMeola and Hiromi, the Al Foster Quintet, Deborah Brown’s Ella Fitzgerald tribute, Lundgren’s duo with trombonist Nils Landgren, the pianist’s impressive, clean-burning “Postdamer Quartet,” and a hard-blowing post-hard-bopping set led by Tim Hagans and Jerry Bergonzi). The action continued into the wee hours over at the Marina jam sessions overlooking the Baltic, led by the formidable and sometimes wily Swedish pianist Sven Erik Lundeqvist.
A list of the 2017 festival’s highlights would have to include a visit from the sublime Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson, in empathetic cahoots with saxophonist Lennart Åberg (in the 12th century abbey, the Klosterkyrkan), and the poetic power trio of Norwegian youngsters Marius Neset on saxophones and Morten Lund on drums with veteran bassist Lars Danielsson, all riding high on the cachet of their impressive ACT album, Sun Blowing. Danish pianist Carsten Dahl—with the Carsten Dahl Experience—also grabbed the ears and other senses with a mix of inside and outside sensibilities (so far, “outside” jazz has amounted to a style non-grata in this festival; maybe they’ll open up to that down the road).
Big band culture, which has a solid standing in Sweden, has played a role in the festival’s agenda from the beginning. Over at the abbey, a solo piano series featured Bugge Wesseltoft, Iiro Rantala and the coolly commanding Dutch vet Louis van Dijk. Meanwhile, the Ystads Teater played host to the large ensemble energies of the great Scottish National Jazz Orchestra (led by dazzling tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith), with charismatic vocalist Eddi Reader waxing poetic and bawdy to the tune of Scottish bard Robert Burns’ songs of olde, and some fascinating fresh ideas from the Ann-Sofi Soderqvist Jazz Orchestra.
From a more unconventional angle, the enterprising and increasingly impressive German/Swiss saxophonist Nicole Johaenntgen made her third appearance here, this time with her group SOFIA II—an all-female band which only met and cohered a day before its intriguing, multicultural performance at the famous spa known as the Saltsjöbad.
Speaking of dreaming, my favorite item on the festival’s smorgasbord was also its potent finale—the quietly enthralling project known as Still Dreaming. Though ostensibly led by Joshua Redman, whose name naturally lands on the marquee, what makes this band special is its democratic distribution of voices—luminous bassist Scott Colley, subtlety-is-king drummer extraordinaire Brian Blade and supremely tasteful cornetist Ron Miles.
As Redman explained, Still Dreaming is a “tribute band to a tribute band,” with the primary source of affection being Old and New Dreams, itself a tribute band to Ornette’ Coleman’s Dreams ensemble. Old and New Dreams featured a quartet of Ornette alums—Joshua’s father Dewey Redman on saxophone, Charlie Haden (an important mentor for Colley) on bass, Don Cherry on cornet and Ed Blackwell (clearly one of the touchpoints in Blade’s masterful, ever-malleable sense of how jazz drumming works) on drums.
For this occasion, Redman was the mightiest of blowers, unleashing tour de force solos, while Miles and the others kept cooler heads about them. The material spanned the new and “old” dream works. They kicked off with Joshua Redman’s “The Rest” and later visited Colley’s “Aspirations” from the current confabulation, and, from the Old and New Dreams roster (all belated), Cherry’s “Mopti,” Dewey Redman’s “Dewey’s Tune” and the hauntingly meditative Haden song “Silence,” which served as a kind of beauteous benediction at set’s end.
From the source of sources, they genuflected in the direction of Coleman himself, with his “Open And Close” and an elastically ecstatic take on the classic Coleman tune “Turnaround” as an encore. In the end, “Turnaround”—with Coleman’s signature, slyly tweaked “turnaround” chords leading inexorably back to the tonic—offered up an ideal conclusion to the concert, and to the festival, one in which the implicit turnaround changes are signaling a bright future to come. DB