Category Archives: Jazz

Chronicle of a death foretold: Esbjörn Svensson’s premonitory reflections on death and the meaning of life

Pianist Esbjörn Svensson died suddenly, at the peak of his career, in a diving accident on June 14, 2008, 44 years of age. Here he makes a striking account of a previous close encounter with death and his personal reflections (audiofile in Swedish, Summer 2003).

It was as if I could see straight inside her. And she had made up her mind. I knew it. It was an unmistakable feeling. I then understood that I had to speak to her. If she is going to jump, I will have to stop her. And somehow, distract her attention. Slowly, I begin to move towards her. She stays very strategically placed, exactly at the exit of the tunel as the train approaches the platform. And a bit too close to the edge. I come closer to her. Very, very carefully. Slowly. I understand that it is incredibly sensitive. I do not think very much. I feel I would just like to distract her. I come closer, maybe 10 meters away from her. I hear that the train approaches. And I hear that she hears. She makes herself ready. I come even closer. Very slowly… Now I am just 3 meters from her. Then comes the train… and the woman jumps, straight in front of it. The train buzzes. People scream. Everything stops. And I stood 3 meters from her… But I turn around and run away… It’s too much. I don’t see what happens. There, in front of my eyes, a person has taken her life, straight out into something else. Something which we don’t know anything about. And I can’t just look anymore. I run. The police is coming. People all around is in desperation. But I walk away…”

“Why do we exist? What are we doing here? And what makes some of us live with the spark of life inside us, while others lose it totally, and jump out? Jump over the border, away from life. Away from reality and, hopefully, pain. To something else totally unknown. These are for me big, incomprehensible questions. And in that moment the woman jumped, it became clear for me that there is no answer. There is no logic controlling our lives. There are no package solutions. Each and everyone of us must find the answer on our own. It doesn’t matter if one does so with the help of music, love, Jesus or drugs. There must be something that pushes us forward. And that makes us want to continue breathing…

About death and the meaning of life: “What guarantee do we have that the future will come? That we will be able to experience it? We generally live in our Western society separated from death. We don’t think about it. Talk seldom about it. Suppress it preferably. But suddenly, it hits us. Close
or at a distance. But almost always with astonishing power. Everything stays put. And we suddenly experience our fragility, our loneliness, our total powerlessness in front of death. It pushes us to a corner. Force us to resignate to it. Death has all the power. And we float in a complete uncertainty about the future. We know nothing. We have no guarantees. Life can finish anytime.”

“What shall we do with this terrible knowledge? How shall we act in this meaningless battle against an opponent over whom we can never win? Many take refuge in religion. Where one can find some form of guarantee in the belief of that what religion offers. If we believe in religion, whichever that may be, we get at least a belief of what is to come after death. We can also pretend that we are immortal, and do in principle whatever we want, for money, and for the life that we expect to live, then when we can afford everything that we need to live a good life. But irrespectively of belief, money or social status, we can never be sure. Suddenly, it just stands there, beside us. A quick look over the shoulder, and we instinctively know who it is.”

“What we go through, what happens to us, that’s our life. My experience is that death can teach us to see what is important… That life is now.”

Pablo Marquez: Musica del Delphin (Luys de Narvaez 1580)

Ok, this not jazz, as it was written several centuries before jazz was invented, but it is a truly amazing recording nevertheless. Masterly interpretation of Luys de Narvaez “Seis libros del Delphín” by Argentine guitarist Pablo Marquez for the ECM label. Marquez got to choose 17 of the more than 40 pieces included in the “Seys libros” compendium. Originally published in 1538, the pices were composed for the vihuela, a predecessor of the modern guitar.Here Marquez skillfully demonstrates how rewarding these pieces can be even in a modern instrument. This impecable performance preserves the intimate, introspective character of the pieces. Timeless, beautiful music of a mystical nature. Pablo Marquez was born in the northwest of Argentina in 1967. He has played with bandoneonist Dino Saluzzi, cellist Anja Lechner, the Rosamunde Quartett and the Ensemble Alma Viva.

Audio files of two favorites, Diferencias sobre Conde Claros (libro VI, 1) and Segundo tono (libro I, 2) appear below.

Wonderful, unreleased recording from Jan Garbarek’s “Photo with…” Quintet live in Kiel, Germany, 1979

The web would sometimes seem to be infinite. Looking for something else, I recently stumbled upon the You Are What You Hear blog site. Dedicated to unreleased live jazz recordings, it contains thousands of mp3 files with previously unheard-of jewels from all corners of the jazz musical spectrum. Remarkably, the last entry in the site was made two years ago. But everything is still there: a time capsule carrying a treasure trove of music, floating in cyberspace.

The catalogue is endless, and one should make sure to download everything indispensable as soon as possible. To me, that includes this incredible recording from Norweigian saxophonist Jan Garbarek live in Kiel, Germany, the 10th of July, 1979, with his quintet from the iconic “Photo With…” ECM album featuring Bill Connors in guitar, John Taylor in piano, Eberhard Weber in bass and Jon Christensen in drums. The concert contains no less than 10 tracks and 2 hs 20 min of uninterrupted joy, all there at the YAWYH site. As the proof of the pudding is in the eating, here we have two tracks from this amazing concert. “Blue Sky”, the first track of the “Photo With…” album (15:32 min) followed by “Melting” (21:38 min), the first track of Bill Connors’ “Of Mist and Melting” ECM recording from 1977. (Also available from the Audio files sidebar.) Truly incredible stuff.

UPDATE 2011-11-25: The YAWYH site has been taken down.

Tomasz Stanko Quintet

Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko visited Fasching along with his scandinavian quintet inlcuding Alexi Tuomarila on piano, Jakob Bro on guitar, Anders Christensen on bass and Olavi Louhivuori on drums. Much of the “Dark Eyes” (ECM 2115) repertoire was played with Stanko’s more introspective mood shown in his latest recordings. Soaring trumpet from Stanko solidly supported by Christensen and Louhivuori with Tuomarila and Bro adding color.

Additional photographs from the concert can be seen at the Jazzklubb Fasching photo gallery.

Dave Holland Quintet

It happens once in a while that top tier international jazz groups come to Fasching. The visit of the Dave Holland Quintet was one of those precious occassions. Veteran bassist Dave Holland, of Miles Davis fame (e.g. In A Silent Way & Bitches Brew), alongside Chris Potter on saxophone, Robin Eubanks on trombon, Steve Nelson on marimba and vibraphone, and Nate Smith on drums. This quintet, albeit with different drummers, has been playing for a very long time now and recorded over half a dozen disks as quintet and as many as the core of larger ensembles. Astonishing energy, incredible playing, telepatic communication. Clearly one of the most important musical events of this year in Stockholm. Watch the videos featured at the end of this post.

More photographs from the concert are available from the Fasching photo gallery.

Bobo Stenson Trio

BoboStensonTrioAssiduous visitor of Stockholm’s Jazzklubb Fasching, Bobo Stenson appeared with his trio of ECM fame this past September. The all-Swedish trio includes Bobo Stenson on piano, Anders Jormin on bass and Jon Faltt on drums, now reportedly with their second ECM recording on the making (before Faltt, Jon Christiensen and Paul Motian sat at the drum kit of the trio). Along with the recently deceased Esbjorn Svensson, Bobo Stenson is perhaps the best internationally known Swedish jazz pianist. Less well known at home, his trio has been acclaimed abroad for many years for their beatuiful ECM recordings. In its ample repertoire, the jazz tradition intermingles with Swedish folk music, Cuban and Argentinian music and classical composers from Henry Purcell to Alban Berg.

Mathias Landaeus Trio

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Young Swedish pianist Mathias Landaeus got a check and flowers as recipient of one the 2010 Jazz Stipends awarded this past 21st of September at Jazzklubb Faasching, Stockholm. After a simple ceremony, the concert followed with Landaeus at the grand piano alongside veteran bass player Palle Danielsson and raising star Jon Faltt on drums. Mostly orignals from Landaeus in an intimate session which also paid tribute to several of his musical heroes, such as Thelonius Monk, and the Scandinavian folk tradition. Faltt as usual having a great time playing his percussion trickery, as can be seen in the video clip. For additional photographs of the concert, visit the the photo gallery.

Lars Jansson Trio

FASCH10_1215Swedish pianist Lars Jansson performed with his trio at Jazzklubb Fasching, Stockholm, on September 13, 2010. Along Jansson were Christian Spering on bass and Anders Kjelberg on drums. They played both standards -such as the lovely Bill Evans tune featured on the video clip below- and originals from both Jansson and Spering. Superb technique from Jansson who still finds lots to say with tunes from the standard repertoire. The Scandinavian touch that characterizes most pianists from these latitudes is always present, at times folksy and with a pensive touch. A selection of the photographs taken during the concert (with Canon EOS 7d and the new 70-200mm f/2.8 L II lens) are available from the Photo Galleries and also HERE.

Ralph Towner – Improvisation and Performance Techniques for Classical and Acoustic Guitar

Master guitarrist Ralph Towner’s book “Improvisation and Performance Techniques for Classical and Acoustic Guitar” published by Hal Leonard in 1985 has been out of print for at least 20 years. A must read for any classical and jazz guitarrist with an inkling to improvisation, it reveals many of the inner workings of the unique sound developed by Towner over 40 years of guitar playing. Chapters cover several techniques, including damping and chordal plucking, finger combinations, left- and right hand techniques, arpeggio, harmony, scales and voicing. Over 60 exercises and the scores of several of Towner’s most famous compositions, including Distant Hills, Zephyr and Beneeath An Evening Sky, are also included. In the introduction, Towner writes that “the intention of this book is to provide you with musical instruction and material to assist you in learning improvisation, along with fundamental tone production and performance techniques. It is my hope that the content is accessible to a wide range of player skills, including those with minimal experience on the classical or acoustic guitar”. An important element in Towner’s music and playing technique is what he calls polymetrical rhythmic groupings: the implication of two or more time signatures occurring simultaneously. Many of the exercises in the book deal with this concept and its many variations. This is a phenomenal volume, highly recommended to any guitar player and all enthusiasts of Towner’s music.

Towner has more recently given out two books with the scores of several of his most celebrated compositions, Solo Guitar Works vol. 1 (2002) and vol. 2 (2006), published by Guitar Solo Publications. These are two terrific volumes and a must for all lovers of Towner’s music. Unlike “Improvisation and Performance Techniques”, they are still available and can be purchased from the GSP website and other online bookstores.

Wolfgang Muthspiel with Larry Grenadier

FASCH10_1031Guitarrist Wolfgang Muthspiel performed at Jazzklubb Facshing, Stockholm, on April 22nd, 2010 accompanied by Larry Grenadier on bass. Muthspiel is a very versatile player with superb technique and feel. In the concert, he featured an electric guitar and a body-less nylon with abundance of effects, live dubbings and electronic percussion. Awesome playing by Muthspiel. Grenadier outstanding, as always. Video clip recorded on the Canon EOS 7D and EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L lens. A selection of photographs taken during the concert can be seen HERE.