Blink – Liner notes by Jim McNeely

Jim McNeelyMy relationship with the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra goes back to about 1990, when I first visited them as guest artist.  And I remember quite well, a few years later, when Fredrik Norén, the orchestra’s founder and leader, told me about “the new bass player”.  Young guy.  Plays bass really well.  And SJO trombonist Bertil Strandberg told me, “By the way, he plays piano really well, too”.  And someone else said, “By the way, he also composes music”.  “Hmmm,” I thought.  This guy should be really good. And yes, he was, very good!  Martin Sjöstedt was his name, and the first time I played with the SJO after he joined them I knew that Fredrik was right: Martin was a great bass player.  And I trusted that the others knew what they were talking about, too. With this CD, Martin reveals the scope of his abilities as composer and arranger for big band, and they are impressive! Five of the pieces are Martin’s own compositions, while the other two are Martin’s arrangements of songs by Karl-Martin Almqvist and Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi.  Each piece has its own well-defined, unique character.  And the whole album effectively showcases both the wonderful ensemble playing, and the many great soloists of the SJO.  As to the individual tunes:
Pride.  The album’s opening track begins with a triumphant statement from the saxes.  The tune itself is reminiscent of a ‘60’s Blue Note quintet recording, embedded in a big band.  Solos belong to the “front line”: Karl-Martin Almqvist  (KMA to those who know him) on tenor, and Karl Olandersson on trumpet. There’s some great saxophone soli writing (and playing) between the two solos.  And the “music geek” in me really likes the ending: a quiet break—drum fill—explosion into a different key—it’s all good!
The atmosphere changes with Martin’s beautiful waltz, Aviation. The piece is enhanced with woodwinds and muted brass and rises and falls like a glider, riding the wind currents. The first major soloist is Johan Hörlen, displaying his energetic lyricism on soprano sax. Then Frederik Norén continues the story on flugelhorn, soaring over the ensemble.  Spurred on by Jukkis Uotila’s drums, the waters get stirred up for Robert Nordmark’s entrance on tenor, but gradually subside into a quiet, dark zone. The energy picks up again, lifting Robert up over the rhythmically charged ensemble.  Then it’s back to the opening texture.
El Bueno opens with snake-like lines, with muted brass and woodwinds in 7/4. The band drops out for a rhythmically tinged solo from Daniel Tilling on piano. A muted interlude leads to Karl Olandersson’s trumpet solo and Fredrik Kronkvist on alto sax.  Some nice individual section work from the saxes and trombones follow, accompanied by Jukkis’s drums, building to send-off into another alto statement.  A very compelling tutti leads to an effective, understated ending.
Martin arranged Karl-Martin Almqvist’s Good to Be to feature the composer’s strong tenor work, first stating the melody, and then soloing.  After some quick textural changes Magnus Wiklund solos on trombone.   KMA returns over the ensemble, building and growing.  There’s some nice “back-and-forth” between the brass and woodwinds.  Some of the figures might even remind an “older” listener (like me) of Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly. The piece ends in a dialogue between KMA and Magnus.
In the Blink of an Eye is full of twisting lines, quick breaks, fast textural changes, and lots of other surprises.  The soloists are Robert Nordmark on tenor, Magnus Broo on trumpet, and Fredrik Kronkvist on alto saxophone.  It’s all held together by Jukkis Uotila, who finally breaks loose into a drum solo.  Upon first hearing this piece I felt like I was speeding down a mountain road in a small car.  Hang on and enjoy the ride!
Martin’s arrangement of Yakhal Inkomo imparts a nice groove and feeling to this tune, written by the South African tenor saxophonist Winston “Mankunku” Ngozi.  Karl-Martin Almqvist captures the song’s essence in his treatment of the melody.  We hear the lyrical side of Magnus Broo’s trumpet, after which the groove heats up for KMA’s solo. Things quiet down for the return of the melody by the brass group.  Then the arrangement builds nicely builds to the end.
The final track on the CD is simply called Blues, but it’s not your normal 12-bar affair! A medium-slow, loping piece, it begins with elements of the blues stated over a three-bar vamp. Johan Hörlen’s soprano sax sings, and the piece slowly coalesces into a 12-bar form.  It finally emerges as a “real” blues to feature Karin Hammar on trombone and Fredrik Lindborg on baritone sax. The vamp returns, and assisted by a few groove “warps”, the piece ends big.
I find this to be a most satisfying set of music.  One reason is that Martin composed and arranged it specifically for the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra.  Wonderful music on its own, it also emphasizes the many strengths of the SJO.  And it continues an important tradition in the band’s history.  Along with CD’s of music by guests like Bob Brookmeyer and myself, they present the music of SJO members.  Past projects include three CD’s of music by their former pianist, Göran Strandberg, and, more recently, a terrific album featuring the composing and arranging of Jukkis Uotila.  With In the blink of an Eye Martin Sjöstedt and the SJO continues this tradition.  It is also so very satisfying to see someone whom I remember as “the new, young guy”, develop into a major voice as a composer/arranger for big band.  I can only hope that this CD will be just the first chapter of a story that will continue for a long time.  I hope to hear a lot more from Martin Sjöstedt, and a lot more from the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra!
Jim McNeely