|Ever since I visited Sweden in 1988, I have known and respected the music scene there. Swedish players who may not be well known in the USA or elsewhere are nevertheless among the first rank of jazz musicians. Ulf Wakenius is one. With names like Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown on his resume, Ulf has definitely proven himself as a jazzer. This CD features some excellent blowing and swings as hard as anything can. The rhythm section, representing countries as diverse as Sweden, Finland and Japan, romps as though they were from Kansas City or Detroit.
The opening track, one of my favorite standards, starts out as a burning duet between Ulf and Jukkis and ends up with the whole band driving like men possessed. Despite the tempo Ulf doesn't sacrifice harmonic interest, taking convoluted ear-tickling turns here and there. Definite transcribing material.
Duke features a quirkily-phrased head over Rhythm changes. Everyone plays with a strong sense of melody while still adding their own harmonic slant. The strong indivduality of the players coupled with the lilting swing feel is a fitting tribute to the tune's namesake. Duke would have approved.
Too young to go steady opens with a lovely piano statement and unfolds into the main melody, which Ulf handles with great care and grace. His solo runs the gamut from hopeful to mournful. I hear more than a touch of Jim Hall in his playing here. Beautiful.
The title track, an original blues, lets the whole band do as the title suggests. Everyone gets deep into the pocket yet maintains a high level of artistic creativity in their solos. Ulf's solo reminds me of trumpeter Lee Morgan (believe it or not). Must be all those gigs he did with Ray Brown pumping the bass. You either sink or swim in a situation like that. Ulf definitely doesn't need a lifeboat.
Herbie Hancock wrote Eye of the Hurricane and recorded it on the Maiden Voyage LP. Ulf and company deal with it with great skill and ease. This minor blues lets Ulf rip all over the fretboard. Lots of transcribing material here, but you'll need one of those machines that slow the recording down! Runqvist's whirling dervish of a solo is also something to be enjoyed.
Night Dreamer gives the band a chance to play in waltz time. They certainly swing beautifully in 3. Everyone plays with the kind of angular, explorative attitude that Wayne Shorter built into the tune when he wrote it. Mori and Uotila switch effortlessly between swing and latin here. Would that more rhythm sections can do that!
For Grant(ed), a tribute to Grant Green, carries the same spirit that the Pittsburgh guitarist imbued in tunes like Miss Anne's Tempo. The band goes out like they came in, driving and swinging relentlessly. Like on the rest of this CD, Ulf slides from intellectual quartal and wholetone passages to rootsy blues licks at the blink of an eye. Once in a while he plays Oscar Peterson-like octave trills at the top of the fretboard. The tune, and the CD, finishes out with Ulf and Jukkis stretching out.
If you've never heard Ulf's playing, this is the CD to start with. The playing is fiery and intelligent without losing an iota of swing. My kind of music.