After many listens, I keep discovering gems previously unnoticed.

HOWLING JAZZ Records

Armand van Wijck – Chromatic Harmonica; Magdalena Eriksson – Violin; Axel Liliedahl Nordström – Piano; Björn Peterssson – Double Bass; Johan Björklund – Drums

Chromatic harmonica player Armand van Wijck’s album, NOTHING TO DECLARE, is some of the best music I have heard this year. Magdalena Eriksson co-produced the album, along with Armand, and she plays violin and sings on one tune. Pianist Axel Liliedahl Nordstrom is a perfect fit for this band. Van Wiijck’s compositions contain elements of classical, jazz, and folk music, and Nordstrom sounds at home in any genre. Bassist Björn Petersson and drummer Johan Björklund form a great rhythm section. NOTHING TO DECLARE is not just a harmonica player with a backup band. This is a tightly knit quartet that has many wonderfull things to say.

Van Wijck is from the Netherlands, born into an Indo-Dutch-Creole heritage, and now lives in Stockholm. He told me that he misses that multicultural experience. “It’s not just about adapting to another culture. Sweden feels like a monoculture, plus in general there are several social gaps between Swedes and migrants.” There is a sense of melancholy on NOTHING TO DECLARE, and some of that comes from Van Wijck feeling like an outsider.

Van Wijck’s partner and collaborator, Magdalena Eriksson’s foundation is in Swedish folk music. She plays violin, sings, and she says she is developing how to improvise over jazz harmony. I love her playing on ‘Hardangervidda.’ She improvises on ’Nothing To Declare’ and we hear her play beautiful double stops on the bridge.

Piano and harmonica duet on ‘Autumn Sun.’ There is some Keith Jarrett in Nordström’s playing. Petersson’s bass resonates like a whisper, then gets louder, more emotional. Björklund’s drumming has a cool shuffle beat. Van Wijck’s harmonica has such an elegantly mournful sound. He said Toots Thielemans inspired him to take up the chromatic harmonica.

Van Wijck also plays the suling, an Indonesian bamboo flute on ’Nenek,’ an ode to his grandmother, who was forced to emigrate from Java to the Netherlands after World War 2. This lovely blend of folk music and jazz made me think of Native American Jim Pepper’s ‘Witchi-tai-to and what Jan Garbarek and Bobo Stenson did with it.

Van Wijck was listening to a lot of Claude Debussy when he was working on ‘Cosmic Spring.’ Nordström’s piano beautifully combines jazz with the graceful precision of classical music. Debussy broke away from the harmonic structures of the Romantic era. His impressionism focused on color, texture, and atmosphere. You can say the same about Van Wijck’s compositions.

I like how NOTHING TO DECLARE was mixed and recorded. You can hear every member of the quartet equally. Van Wijck said, “I want to give all my band members freedom to do their own thing and be pro-active.” Johannes Lundberg was the recording engineer. He also records and mixes for ECM Records.

When I first heard NOTHING TO DECLARE, I thought, “ Oh, that’s nice.” After many listens, I keep discovering gems previously unnoticed.