Jazz may be a universal language, but it is spoken in many dialects. One of the most compelling, yet in America, most misunderstood, is the so-called Nordic tone. During the immediate postwar years Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden, readily accepted innovations from the United States, from consumer products to social attitudes, but the Vietnam War caused a crisis of conscience, prompting a lively debate around nationalistic values. Swedish and other Scandinavian jazz musicians began exploring ways in which elements of their own culture could be absorbed into their music to distance themselves from the American model of jazz. What emerged was the Nordic tone, representing an ordered calm in the often frantic world of jazz, projecting the stark imagery of nature near the Northern Lights. Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson, a key figure in this movement, is equally fluent in what he calls "the American style" (his recordings with Charles Lloyd offer ample testimony of this), but here he explores themes of subdued rhythmic and linear events with a serene, minimalistic approach to improvisation that creates an evocative tranquillity rooted in Nordic folk forms.
With Anders Jormin on bass and Jon Christensen on drums, Serenity follows Reflections (1996) and War Orphans (1998), and represents a further refinement of the group's eloquent interplay, with Stenson's sharply etched lines highlighted by Christensen's coloristic drumming. On numbers such as "Golden Rain" and "Polska of Despair" (both versions) he avoids sacrificing expressivity for mechanical exactness or lyrical intensity for romantic indulgence, and leaves spaces for Jormin and Christensen to react intuitively and subversively. His precisely articulated, low-key ardor is both rigorous and highly disciplined, and it beckons a time when the technique-obsessed American approach to improvisation is seen, in Europe at least, as excessive and in poor taste. Here, Stenson emerges as an original voice within jazz, which in these renascent times is cause enough for celebration.