With the Garbarek gig two days away, it's time my posts went Scandinavian for a while. I've only ever reviewed one Garbarek CD, and that's already been posted, but this is an interesting offering which shares similar roots to Garbarek's folk-jazz.
Not in the same league as landmarks such as 'Dis', it is nevertheless worth checking out if you like the style...
JONAS KNUTSSON & JOHAN NORBERG
ACT (9014 2)
Bigdsiljum; Naverbiten; Ansia; Krubaston; Bielite; Koiklaten; Kantelito; Ravostinato; Hattnijaur; Esvires; Taget; Abdullah Latikberg.
Jonas Knutsson (ss, as, bs); Johan Norberg (g, kantele).
Recorded 1999 to 2003.
The origins of these recordings can be traced back to 1999, when Knutsson and Norberg got together to jam in the guitarist’s flat. So pleased were they with the results, they decided to take their newly found musical rapport into the studio. Knutsson is a folk-leaning saxophonist with a sound and approach somewhere between Jan Garbarek and John Surman, whilst Norberg is a fixture on the Scandinavian folk and world music scenes.
Earlier Knutsson recordings have all shown an affinity for world music, and particularly for Nordic folk forms, though they’ve also tended to take a more contemporary approach via glossy electronic texturing. The landscape of this stripped-down pairing is far more barren however, with many of the pieces amounting to little more than evocative sketches. Although the duos are improvised, the pieces all have rigid structure, and the understanding between the two musicians is highly developed. Melodies are stretched but never lost for any great length of time.
Norberg has the licence to break rank but does so sparingly, in the main concentrating on filigreed backdrops for Knutsson to superimpose simple melodic chants. On two tracks he plays the kantele, a stringed instrument from Finland that resembles a zither, and his bottleneck guitar on the final track is a disarming surprise, recalling Leo Kottke. The bulk of the material is inspired by old Scandinavian folk music, but there are exceptions - the aforementioned ‘Abdullah Latikberg’ with its Delta-meets-Township feel, and ‘Bielte’, which could almost be one of Jimmy Giuffre’s late 50s folk-jazz excursions.
Sound quality is richly detailed, capturing Knutsson’s gruff baritone saxophone and preserving the purity of his plaintive soprano in a way that is lost on many reverb-drenched and highly compressed recordings I hear. The music nevertheless shares a close kinship with the familiar Nordic folk-jazz style established on scores of recordings on the influential ECM label. As much folk or world music as it is jazz, the stark simplicity and evocative melodies of Norrland make for a pleasing hour of listening.
(Jazz Review, August 2004)