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Svend Asmussen: Still Fiddling

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Svend Asmussen was 83 in 1999 when he recorded Still Fiddling. His attributes-flawless violin tone and technique, room-filling sound, irresistible swing-were intact. One of the greatest European jazz artists, little known in the United States, Asmussen has for decades been a star in Denmark, resolutely maintaining his native country as his home base and rarely performing outside of the continent. Asmussen built his style on inspiration from Joe Venuti and, most tellingly, Stuff Smith. He made his professional debut in 1933, became a celebrity and was later imprisoned by Denmark’s Nazi occupiers in World War II. When peace broke out, he roared back into his career, which has continued unabated.

Still Fiddling is notable for the high quality of soloing by Asmussen and the Danish guitarist Jacob Fischer, who is more than 50 years younger than the leader. They are supported by two other impressive young Danes, bassist Jesper Lundgaard and drummer Aage Tanggaard. To great effect, Asmussen presents without elaboration or variation the strong melodies of Edvard Grieg’s “Jeg Elsker Dig” and his own gospel waltz tribute to Smith, “Sermon for Stuff.” But improvisation is the rule, and although several of the tracks seem unnecessarily short, when Asmussen and Fischer stretch out on “Hallelujah,” “Memories of You” and the complex blues “Silly Shuffle,” we are hearing an old master and a young one, timeless and perfectly matched in their sensibilities and talents. “My Yiddish Momme” and “Shalom Elechem” impart minor-key melancholy perhaps appropriate among Danes. There’s another portion of it on “How Deep Is the Ocean?” but never a trace of Hamletlike indecision. Certainty, joy and swing dominate.