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Martin Sjöstedt
and the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra

Horizon

by Howard Lawes

Stockholm Jazz Orchestra Horizon.jpg

Sweden is a country almost twice the size of the UK but with a population only slightly bigger than that of Greater London.  It is of course famous for Abba and IKEA but perhaps more important to many Swedes is something called 'Allemansrätten' which translates as 'the right to roam'.  This almost unique right allows all Swedes to freely access their mountains, lakes, forests, and beautiful meadows and in doing so to become aware of the wide open spaces and huge skies. Chatting with the award-winning multi-instrumentalist/composer/arranger/educator Martin Sjöstedt by Zoom he explained that his new album Horizon with the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra is so named because, unlike some musicians who see colours in music, he sees pictures and the pictures he sees are the wide open spaces and distant horizons of the beautiful but remote Northern Sweden.  Here is a brief introduction to the album:

Martin was born in Uppsala and like all Swedish children, benefitted from an excellent musical education although not a great deal of jazz was taught.  His parents enjoyed music but were not musicians and it was only when he stumbled across a recording of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, and used to play it on long car journeys, that he realised where his musical destiny lay.  Martin played piano and would have loved to emulate Wynton Kelly, the pianist on the Freddie Freeloader track, or Oscar Peterson, who was another pianist he admired.  However, as luck would have it, a neighbour had a double bass that Martin borrowed and he learned to play using Peterson's bassist, Ray Brown as a role model.  Martin went on to study music at Uppsala University, the oldest university in the Nordic countries founded in 1477.  The university orchestra, known as the Royal Academic Orchestra, was founded in 1627 and plays in the University's magnificent Grand Auditorium; the Uppsala University Jazz Orchestra wasn't founded until 2004 by which time Martin had moved on.

 

Martin's first album, on which he plays double bass, was called Mondeo, released in 2002, with band members he met at university.  Although named after a cafe in Uppsala where musicians would hang out Martin's album also became a free gift for buyers of the Ford produced namesake.  Since then he has featured on over a hundred recordings either as leader or sidesman and playing either double bass or piano, although there have been no more titles related to cars.

 

Martin expresses no preference for either double bass or piano and seems equally adaptable when it comes to size of ensemble.  He has long been associated with the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, another big band based in the far north of Sweden called The Norrbotten Big Band, small ensembles including Lindborg, Sjöstedt and Daniel, otherwise known as LSD, and Martin Sjöstedt Walk Tall.  His association with singer Claire Martin, whereby he plays piano and leads a trio with bassist Niklas Fernqvist and drummer Daniel Fredriksson has been particularly fruitful with Claire winning a Parliamentary Jazz Award and the album Believin' It reviewed by Clive Davis as  "Her best yet ... Her Swedish trio is all fire and ice, and, as ever, the material is anything but conventional ... Sheer class." There is an introductory video here, and here is Martin on bass with his band Walk Tall playing What Now? in 2020

Horizon is the latest album from the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra now in their 40th anniversary year and it is released by Ubuntu Music. It features a mix of old and new compositions by Martin Sjöstedt and new arrangements of several, perhaps less well-known pieces composed by Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker, Abdullah Ibrahim and John Coltrane. The Stockholm Jazz Orchestra is one of the finest jazz orchestras in the world with an extensive discography and a history of extensive touring throughout Europe, North and South America and South Africa. It also has a long history of collaboration with some of the greatest jazz arrangers in the world.  It is an orchestra of highly skilled individuals who play outstanding solos but also play together as the tightest of units with remarkable crispness and precision.  The line-up of the orchestra on the album is Fredrik Norén, Karl Olandersson, Magnus Broo, and Nils Janson on trumpets and flugelhorns; Peter Dahlgren, Karin Hammar, and Hannes Junestav on trombones, Anders Wiborg on bass trombone; on reeds Fredrik Kronkvist (alto saxophone and flute), Johan Cristoffersson (alto saxophone and flute), Karl-Martin Almqvist (tenor saxophone and clarinet), Andreas Gidlund (tenor saxophone, clarinet, and flute), Fredrik Lindborg (baritone saxophone and bass clarinet) with a rhythm section of Martin Sjöstedt, piano. Niklas Fernqvist, double bass, and  Adam Ross on drums. All the arrangements are by Martin Sjöstedt and the album was recorded at the Nilento Studio with recording and mastering by Lars Nilsson.

 

As notable as the compositions themselves are Martin Sjöstedt's arrangements.  In Sweden, where there is a relatively small population, an excellent system of music education and generous support for the industry, most jazz musicians are well-known to each other and Martin's familiarity with the musicians of the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra has enabled him to to arrange each piece to suit the respective soloists.   “I aim to create a musical framework where the soloist feels completely liberated while also allowing myself to communicate and challenge through the large ensemble", explains Sjöstedt.  “I now realise that all the music I compose for larger ensembles aims to provide a sense of personal involvement for everyone and allows space for each individual's unique personality." 

 

The soloist on the first track, Butterfly,  is saxophonist Fredrik Kronkvist, known for relentless hard bop while Herbie Hancock's composition is an example of both funk and fusion that was once covered in the UK by Jazz Jamaica.  Martin Sjöstedt's complex arrangement immediately highlights the skills of this amazing orchestra with a very funky and very demanding introduction before the energetic Kronkvist cuts loose. Sjöstedt's conversation with the orchestra on piano is a little more restrained.  In contrast the next track, Intervals, has Johan Cristoffersson with a more temperate and beautiful saxophone solo featuring snippets of melody from Martin Sjöstedt's composition and with Sjöstedt on piano again conversing with different parts of the orchestra. Here is Butterfly:

Track 3, Donna Lee, was composed by Charlie Parker and his recording featured the great Bud Powell on piano.  Martin Sjöstedt's version starts by recreating the dissonant sounds Powell achieved by playing adjacent notes simultaneously and this little motif features throughout this fast-moving bebop standard with solos from the trumpet and trombone of Karl Olandersson and Hannes Junestav respectively. The title track is next, a new composition by Martin Sjöstedt, inspired by the wide open spaces of Norrbotten enhanced by  Sjöstedt's ability to relate music to perceptions.  Abdullah Ibrahim's, The Wedding, starts with a gorgeous brass band sound while the tune, which should be joyous but is tinged with sadness, signifies that in Ibrahim's home country of South Africa couples have been separated and weddings delayed. The Stockholm Jazz Orchestra and Martin Sjöstedt himself have visited South Africa and know the country well.Listen to The Wedding:

The track Mulgrew is Martin Sjösted's tribute to the pianist Mulgrew Miller, who was a pianist in the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers among others. The swinging big band sound, epitomised by Ellington is embellished with solos from Frederik Kronkvist and Frederik Lindborg.  Lindborg's own band recently performed a tribute concert to the great Swedish double-bassist Georg Riedel with Martin Sjöstedt on double bass.  26-2 is a John Coltrane composition. The original recording featured McCoy Tyner on piano and is an example of the harmonic modification known as "Coltrane Changes". The next track, composed by Martin Sjöstedt, called Tengtones celebrates the exciting young musicians typified by Erik and Johann Tengholm who are enriching the vibrant Swedish jazz scene at the moment, while the last track is another John Coltrane composition called Equinox, named by Coltrane's wife Naima because he was born on the day of the autumn equinox.  It is a haunting blues melody well suited to a big band and Martin Sjöstedt's multi-layered arrangement, originally created for a John Coltrane tribute event is perfect. Here they are playing Equinox:

Most of the compositions on the album were originally written for small ensembles and so it falls to the arranger to create additional music and to orchestrate it.  It has been noted before that even the most famous arrangers such as Gil Evans and Billy Strayhorn have sometimes failed to get the recognition they deserve, although nowadays their invaluable contributions are recognised.  Martin Sjöstedt mentions Bob Brookmeyer as an arranger he particularly admires and in fact Brookmeyer collaborated with the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra in 1988 to produce an album called Dreams. Incidentally, Brookmeyer once collaborated with Thad Jones, a band leader that Martin Sjöstedt also much admires, incorporating a 12-tone technique developed by Arnold Schoenberg, in some of their music.  Other notable musician/arrangers that have inspired Martin Sjöstedt are Jim McNeely who played with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and Maria Schneider, both of whom have visited Sweden in the past to collaborate with both the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra and the Norrbotten Big Band. 

 

2024 is the 40th anniversary of the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra and the 75th anniversary of Svensk Jazz, an organisation that promotes and supports jazz in Sweden.  If this album is anything to go by, jazz in Sweden has a very bright future. The sheer quality of the musicianship demonstrated by the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra combined with Martin Sjöstedt's composition and arrangements, which are of the highest calibre, is a real pleasure to listen to over and over again.  One very much looks forward to their visiting the UK and providing the opportunity to hear a live performance.

Details and Samples of the album Horizon are here.

Martin Sjöstedt's website is here, and the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra website is here.

Stockholm Jazz Orchestra.jpg

Stockholm Jazz Orchestra

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