Jazz Meets World at Stockholm Fest


Roscoe Mitchell performs at the Stockholm Jazz Festival, which ran from Oct. 7–16 in Stockholm, Sweden.

(Photo: Courtesy Stockholm Jazz Festival)

This year’s Stockholm Jazz Festival, held October 7–16, tilted a bit more in the direction of world music, with jazz sharing center stage more often than not.

Not that there wasn’t a hefty selection of jazz to see and hear—among the performers were Archie Shepp, Dee Dee Bridgewater, bassist Avishai Cohen, Abdullah Ibrahim and Steve Gadd—but the general direction SJF seems to be toward innovative artists of all stripes.

This is a healthy, intelligent direction. Heard back to back—as was the case at the SFJ—this kind of programming displays the undeniable connections between varieties of jazz. A short list also included the pairing of Roscoe Mitchell with Japanese drummer Kikanju Baku; Malian singer-guitarist Fatoumata Diawara with the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra; and rediscovered Ethiopian legend Hailu Mergia with Australian jazz-rockers Tony Buck and Mike Majkowski, on drums and bass, respectively.

Cohen’s sold-out closing-night set at the Konserthuset, featuring the outstanding contributions of drummer Itamar Doari and pianist Omri Moealso, furiously melded musical elements far and wide, refusing to be located anywhere specific, but certainly rooted in folk and traditional music.

In a slamming show Oct. 10 at Fasching that had people wishing there was a dance floor to share the fun, the multi-instrumentalist Mergia joined forces with his mates in was a show that was loaded with improvisation and driving beats.

Mergia’s keyboards and accordion magically melded with the others, providing long stretches of potent, forceful and funky material that had a definite township vibe to it. Playing mostly organ sounds on his keyboard (but adding some vocals), Mergia’s vamped cohesively with his band mates, working as a unit from move to move. While the improvising was very good, the music’s drone-like quality—maintained for almost two and a half hours—obviously had the most lasting affect on this full house.

That Mergia is back playing music after so much change (he was also a member of Ethiopia’s Walias Band in the 1970s) was and is cause for celebration.

The Stockholm Jazz Festival puts its money where its heart is, programming solid, one of a kind performers in varied settings across the city, from small intimate clubs (e.g., Glenn Miller Café, Plugged Records) to grand halls (the classic Konserthuset), to one of the world’s finest medium-sized jazz clubs, the now-legendary Fasching, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2017. All told, this year’s festival hosted 164 shows at 36 different venues.

Every Tuesday of every SJF for five years running, Fasching hosts the immensely popular P2 Jazzkatten, Sweden’s biggest jazz prize since 1993. The concert is broadcast live on P2 Swedish radio. Along with the performance of award-winning saxophonist Per “Texas” Johansson, there was a world premiere by Swedish Radio P2 composed and performed by last year’s winner of Jazzkatten for Composer of the Year, Nils Berg.

Then there was magnetic Colombian-Swedish singer Kristin Amparo, who showed an incredible command of her voice. With explosive energy, and with the trio of piano, bass and drums surrounding her storytelling, she occasionally approached the viviality of a Broadway revue.

Closing out the night was the nine-piece Swedish collective Blacknuss Allstars. Funky and powerful, this band had people dancing and shouting encouragement from song to song. Male and female vocals complemented the group’s unrelenting quasi-disco beats, which came across as a mix of Tower of Power and the JBs (their extra-long set ended, appropriately, with James Brown’s “I Feel Good”).

For those who didn’t get enough and wanted to return, that same party spirit continued over both weekends of the festival with late-night jamming at Fasching, lasting until roughly 4 a.m.

Other standout shows included Cuban sensation pianist Alfredo Rodriguez’s trio with special guest Indian vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy at Fasching. The band’s intense yet irreverent take on the Cuban classic “Guantanamera” had the pianist at one point zinging across his keys as if at a shooting gallery.

At Vasateatern, there were other novel undertakings, including the pairing of Swedish jazz saxophonist Magnus Lindgren with Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman and the duo of Swedish trumpeter-composer Peter Asplund with Polish singer Vivian Buczek (celebrating their new CD, Songs Of Our Lives).

More highlights: American saxophonist Tia Fuller and her trio and the innovative Swedish singer Lina Nyberg and her crack band with pianist Cecilia Persson at TeaterStudio Lederman. DB

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