Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Bobo Stenson with Anders Jormin & Paul Motian...

As far as I'm aware, nobody has ever asked the question how anybody ever ends up being called 'Bobo'. Perhaps it's a common abbreviation in Sweden, or is there a story to tell about Stenson's youthful idolisation of conga player Willie Bobo?

Stenson almost made it with Garbarek, Rypdal, Andersen and Christensen as one of the major forces in Scandinavian Jazz in the 1970s. His own album 'Underwear' is a neglected classic (surely the title counts against it?) and is ripe for re-issue.

He appeared on a string of Garbarek and Rypdal's important early works, including the great 'Sart'. 'Witchi-tai-to' is one of my all-time favourite records, and Stenson co-led this astonishing quartet with Garbarek. I stand by my remark in this review that they're arguably the equal of Keith Jarrett's Scandinavian Quartet. A force to be reckoned with. Then he disappeared.

He re-emerged in the '90s as something of an ECM 'house' pianist, once again making records as a leader and sideman. Notable highlights included Charles Llloyd's 'Notes From Big Sur, Don Cherry's 'Dona Nostra' and Tomasz Stanko's 'Litania'. His own trio records were far more restrained than 'Underwear', but fascinating nevertheless.

This review keeps the Scandinavian theme going, and it's also another one of the reviews of mine that made it in a heavily abridged form to the ECM website. Follow the self-agrandising link here...

ECM Records (ECM 1904)

Send In The Clowns; Rowan; Alfonsina; There Comes A Time; Song About Earth; Seli; Goodbye; Music For A While; Allegretto Rubato; Jack Of Clubs; Sudan; Queer Street; Triple Play; Race Face.

Bobo Stenson (p); Anders Jormin (b); Paul Motian (d), (April 2004, NYC).

Listening to this recording I was reminded of David Ilic’s perceptive and often quoted description of improvised music ensemble AMM. His comment that their recordings were ‘as alike and unalike as trees’ seems to hold equally good for this trio. Without going into granular detail about what Ilic may have meant, Stenson’s trio recordings all appear superficially similar, subtle variegations only apparent through careful listening, peeling away the music’s many layers. Less radical than AMM for sure, their music is just as organic and finely wrought, always created with the same intense concentration.

Their starting point is the Bill Evans-Scott LaFaro-Paul Motian amalgam of the early ‘60s, and to my reckoning Goodbye is Stenson’s fourth trio recording for ECM, the label he is most closely associated with. This session brings the aforementioned Motian in to replace usual percussionist Jon Christensen. Though you’re often hard pressed to hear him, his sensitive contribution is a crucial element in the success of this recording.

From the opening standard “Send In The Clowns”, the pace settles into the familiar European free-ballad metre, only picking up for the closing Don Cherry piece “Race Face”, the nearest thing to an oak amongst the conifers. Both Jormin and Stenson performed this piece with Cherry on his 1993 ECM outing Dona Nostra, and it’s just as infectiously upbeat here. Elsewhere the mood is far more opaque and careful listening is required. If you’re prepared to give yourself over to the music then its dynamics quickly become apparent, and despite the apparent low volume there is no lack of emotional range. Take “Seli” for example - starting in much the same way as any of the selections, it soon finds direction, quietly smouldering to a fitting climax without drawing any unnecessary attention to itself.

The title track is the most straightforwardly Evans-like piece, whilst Jormin’s bow lends some darkly satisfying hues to “Triple Play”. A Jormin arrangement of Henry Purcell’s “Music For A While” continues Stenson’s interest in reworking classical themes, and, like everything else on offer, a way back to Evans is found via another sublime lyrical flight.

ECM must be congratulated for reviving the career of this pianist, who co-led a quartet with Jan Garbarek in the early ‘70s that was every bit the equal of Jarrett’s more celebrated ‘Scandinavian Quartet’. As beautiful as it is unimmediate, this is an exemplar of its kind.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, January 2006)


Gregg Brennan said...

Nice job Fred, as usual. Bobo is great and all ECM fans like us know he is one of the labels gems. Don't forget about his Masqualero stuff and the many sideman things throughout the 90's. 'Goodbye' is his 6th for ECM.- 'Underwear', 'War Orphans' (1998), 'Reflections' (1993), 'Serenity' (2000) and 'Very Early' (1986/1994) are the first 5.

I couldn't agree more that the 70's Jan/Bobo group is the equal of Jarrett's for sure.


stratego said...


there used to be a Durham Bobo- also known as Bolo. You may remember him?