Scandanavia has long been fertile land for jazz listeners and musicians alike. In the 1960s musicians like Mezz Mezzrow, Bud Freeman, Johnny Griffin, and Dexter Gordon found their way to Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In the ‘70s there was an explosion of Scandanavian players, including Bobo Stenson, Jan Garbarek, Palle Danielssen, Terge Rypdal, Jon Christensen, Arild Anderson. More recently, the Tord Gustavsen Trio has taken up the Scandanavian jazz mantle.
Bobo Stenson has an extensive discography and many years of work with musicians as varied as Jan Garbarek, Charles Lloyd, and Tomasz Stanko. His work shows influences as diverse as classical, straight ahead jazz, atonal composition, Indian music, and minimalist composition. His playing is sensitive and lyrical, inviting inevitable comparisons with Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, and others. Yet he has carved out his own niche with his expressive style.
Goodbye finds Stenson working in the familiar trio format that has been his stock in trade for many years. Bassist Anders Jormin is once again on hand, providing wonderfully sparse yet expressive bass work that makes Stenson sound as good as possible. Stenson’s usual drummer, Jon Christenson, is replaced this time out by Paul Motian, who at this point might as well be declared official ECM house drummer, so ubiquitous has he become.
Stenson and company open this new disc with a performance of Sondheim’s warhorse “Send In the Clowns.” The song has, of course, been the subject of many parodies, jokes, and outright horrible performances, but Stenson demonstrates what a truly unique pianist he is by creating a version that is sublimely beautiful and completely lacking in unnecessary drama. Motian keeps a constant, low hum of kinetic energy going while Jormin’s bass creates a cushion over which Stenson’s piano seems to float serenely but not without direction. In fact, if there is a way to sum up Stenson’s piano playing here it would have to take in both his Jarrett-esque sense of lyricism and melody while allowing for a much more minimalist style.
If Ahmad Jamal left spaces in his work, Stenson allows for entire universes of silence. But he’s not merely erudite—listen to his playing on the Gordon Jenkins tune “Goodbye,” where he spins off a series of beautifully realized phrases, many bristling with blues feeling, and you’ll realize that for all his Nordic minimalism, he can swing, even though this trio seldom does so overtly.
All three musicians contribute compositions, though Stenson offers only one, entitled “Queer Street.” Both Motian and Jormin offer a number of pieces, and Jormin also offers arrangements of three pieces by classical composers: Argentina’s Ariel Ramirez, Russia’s Vladimir Vysotsky, and England’s Henry Purcell. It’s amazing how well the adaptations of these pieces fit into the flow of the program, demonstrating that Stenson, Jormin, and Motian have the ability to adapt to any musical situation. In fact, Goodbye is a very cohesive recording, tighter than his previous ECM outing, 2000’s Serenity, which was a two-disc set. While there’s not a great deal less music here (70 minutes vs. a little over 90 minutes), one feels that it is a sublimely well-constructed statement by a group of musicians who are not inclined to waste energy or sound on non-essential utterances.