Northern Lights

Article excerpt

Americans used to say that the only European jazz musician of any note was Django Reinhardt. Such insularity has resulted in un-American jazz rarely getting its due, either over there or even among the countries in which it lives. Europeans, cursed as second-hand disciples, seldom make a mark outside their local community, and a mere handful of modern players have made an impression on British listeners. Bereft of promotion, resource and limelight, the self-sufficiency of Eurojazz has made it a tough, fertile and surprising area of music. Just as American jazz has its regional aspects, so does the European model take on local colours. Italian players often display a Neapolitan love for romantic melody. The Dutch have a theatrical, sometimes surreal bent.

The expected thing about Swedish jazz is that it's cool. The Swedish jazz audience has always, for sure, been among the hippest in Europe. They were almost the first to cheer on bebop in the 1940s. Stockholm has always made visiting jazzmen welcome, to the point where some stayed on (it is an irresistible city). Stan Getz made some of his most enjoyable records in Sweden, and his language - lean, romantic, quick-witted - rubbed off on many of the players. But Swedish musicians are seldom sighted outside their local environs, which makes the Swedish Jazz Extravaganza - well, they had to call it something - all the more extraordinary. The Swedish Concert Institute has somehow provided the means to bring in 19 different groups to play in London venues over a period of eight days. It is a peerless opportunity to hear what makes their music work.

The old-timers of the company, Putte Wickman and Arne Domnerus, are survivors of original Swedish bebop, and still, judging by their records, formidable players. What they did was adapt the primal heat of the original idiom to a kind of calm virtuosity: serene but not chilled. …