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Various Artists: Topsy Theme: Swedish Jazz 1956-1959

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.

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