Swedish Jazz, Excavated


Pianist Monica Dominique is featured on a box set that anthologizes Swedish jazz between 1970 and 1979.

(Photo: Courtesy Caprice Records)

Two decades ago, the Swedish state-run label Caprice Records launched a remarkably inclusive series intended to encapsulate the country’s rich jazz history reaching all the way back to 1899, before the genre was recognized as a thing here in the U.S., let alone Europe. But that reach speaks to the wide-eared rigor of this series, which has used a non-hierarchical aesthetic in chronicling the entire sweep of jazz through 10 other volumes. The previous installment in the series, which covered 1965–1969, dropped back in 2005, so it’s heartening to see its resumption with the four-disc set Swedish Jazz History Vol. 11: Jazz Cosmopolit (Caprice 22067; 79:43/79:43/77:38/79:34 ***), which covers the years 1970–1979.

Sweden embraced jazz early on and enjoyed a long tradition of hosting visiting American musicians, and eventually some prominent players settled there—including bassist Red Mitchell and trumpeters Bill Barron and Don Cherry. Naturally, a lot of the music on this set reflects contemporaneous developments in American jazz, whether fusion or pop-inflected sounds, such as the way Georg Wadenius, a one-time member of Blood, Sweat & Tears, sings along with his guitar lines, à la George Benson, on “Birth Cry, Part 1,” a 1977 track by Sansara Music Band. Perhaps because of those connections to U.S. performers, the country produced plenty of high-level musicians, and some of the most important are prominently featured: bassist Georg Riedel offers sleek big band arrangements with Radiojazzgruppen on “Svit Cosmopolit,” while tenor titan Bernt Rosengren leads a quartet on an unexpected treatment of Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’.” The elegant baritone saxophone hero Lars Gullin, one of the first Swedes to score an American record deal and make inroads in the U.S., also appears with Radiojazzgruppen on a 1976 recording.

Because the music is sequenced in strict chronological fashion, the set sometimes has the effect of inducing stylistic whiplash, veering from the organ jazz of Takt & Ton to the trad ebullience of Kustbandet to the singular avant-garde guitar explorations of Staffan Harde—and that’s just during the first part of disc one.

At the same time, the level playing field for all styles is admirable. The set is packaged with a 188-page booklet crammed with photos, but most of the annotations are in Swedish. There is an overview essay in English by British critic Stuart Nicholson that gamely tries to tie it all together, as well as a brief piece that focuses on the ascent of female jazz musicians in Sweden during this era; these are followed by English-language summaries of longer Swedish pieces profiling saxophonist Lennart Åberg and singer-pianist Monica Dominique. Indeed, both Åberg, who emerged as a dominant, ubiquitous force in Swedish jazz during the ’70s—especially through his membership in Rena Rama alongside pianist Bobo Stenson—and Dominique are influential representatives.

Abundantly clear on some of the tracks here is Sweden’s importance in pushing post free-jazz sounds, whether the post-Ayleresque frenzies of the Mount Everest Trio (which tackles the saxophonist’s classic “Spirits”), the white-knuckle complexity of Lokomotiv Konkret, the high-velocity cluster-splatter attacks of pianist Per Henrik Wallin and the strident sprawl of Iskra. Perhaps more importantly, following Cherry’s residence in Sweden, the country became a font of groups borrowing elements and ideas from various international traditions, whether Sevda’s bracing pan-global concoctions or the Bulgarian themes that turn up in a track by Okay Temiz, a Turkish expat.

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On Sale Now
September 2023
Kris Davis
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