Various-artists-topsy_theme_span3
March 2003

Various Artists
Topsy Theme: Swedish Jazz 1956-1959
Caprice Records

Swedish jazz weathered the onslaught of rock 'n' roll, but in the last half of the '50s the audience for jazz declined there just as it did in the music's homeland. Still, with a significant boost from the government's creation of the Swedish Radio Studio Orchestra, headed by Harry Arnold, the great players of Sweden's bop and postbop generations managed to keep working. Pianist Bengt Hallberg, saxophonists Arne Domnerus and Lars Gullin, trombonist Ake Persson, trumpeter Bengt-Arne Wallin, singer Monica Zetterlund and dozens of other musicians found at least occasional employment in various versions of the radio band, which also featured visiting American soloists. Considerable recording continued not only for Swedish labels like Dragon and Metronome but also for the international labels Phillips, Polydor, Columbia and Decca. That trove of commercial recordings, and some private ones, furnished the material for this final box set in Caprice's invaluable survey of the development of Swedish Jazz in the '40s and '50s.

As with the other volumes, I am struck by the overall high quality of musicianship and solo inspiration in these performances. Much of the playing is derivative (what playing is not?), but little of it can be dismissed as imitative. To use tenor saxophone as an example, widespread improvising in the Stan Getz mold was accurate in spirit, style and tone, but tenor men like Carl-Henrik Norin and Rolf Billberg rarely depended on Getz's licks. They had substantial original ideas. Aside from the expected superb performances by such well-known players as Hallberg, Persson, Gullin and Domnerus, one of the pleasures of these sets is encountering surprises that raise questions and make impressions.

Why does so advanced a player as valve trombonist Kurt Jarnberg show up on only one track? Why did Ernestine Anderson stop singing as simply and directly as she does in her 1956 "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams" with the Thore Swanerud Trio? Did Jan Johansson do other arranging as effective as his charts for Stan Getz and His Swedish Jazzmen? "Honeysuckle Rose" is the example here. Phil Woods may be indelibly identified with Quincy Jones' "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set," but on the original 1958 recording by Jones and the radio orchestra, Domnerus is equally gripping in his subdued, sure way. Jan Allan's trumpet playing is as impressive for fleetness and quietness as is the better known Rolf Ericson's for fire and range.

The set abounds in stimulating finds, too many to mention in a brief review. It reminds us that Sweden was a fertile place for jazz in the 1950s and that brilliant, young, contemporary Swedish musicians like Jan Lundgren, Peter Asplund and the members of Magnus Lindgren's big band grew out of an impressive tradition. Caprice is between distributors in the U.S. Internet habitues can order from swedishmusicshop.com.

Originally published in March 2003
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