Ubuntu Music UBU148

Fredrik Kronkvist – alto sax, flute; Johan Christoffersson – alto sax, flute; Karl-Martin Almqvist – tenor sax, clarinet; Andreas Gidlund – tenor sax, clarinet, flute; Fredrik Lindborg – baritone sax, bass clarinet; Fredrik Noren, Karl Olandersson, Nils Janson, Magnus Broo – trumpets & flugelhorns; Peter Dahlgren, Karn Hammar, Hannes Junestav – trombones; Anders Viborg – bass trombone; Martin Sjostedt – piano; Niklas Fernqvist – double bass; Adam Ross –drums

Recorded September 27, 2022

Pianist, bassist and composer/arranger Martin Sjöstedt brings his original take on the contemporary big band with his creative re-imagining of five compositions from the pens of Herbie Hancock, Charlie Parker, Abdullah Ibrahim and John Coltrane alongside four of his own pieces. The resulting album is a glorious celebration of the large ensemble while also making plenty of space for the featured soloists.

A big part of Sjöstedt’s philosophy is occupying the area that falls between composition and the freedom for the band’s members to express themselves, yet with a flexibility of a smaller unit. To that end, he has succeeded admirably to the extent that the soloists have plenty of opportunity to stretch out, and the orchestrations that ‘accompany’ them are packed with detail that also warrant the attention of the listener.

The music always looks to keep things fresh and, in this sense, also serves up a continuous supply of surprises along the way. Hancock’s ‘Butterfly’ delivers a punchy arrangement and as particularly astringent solo from altoist Fredrik Kronkvist and flowing and lyrical solo from Sjöstedt, with some excellent support from the band.

Sjöstedt’s skill and good taste in arranging the music of others is captured in a majestic performance of Abdullah Ibrahims’s ‘The Wedding’ in an arrangement that is stirring and full of passion. Never allowing the writing to become overcomplicated Ibrahim’s wonderful melody is allowed to sing, and the solos by tenor saxophonist Karl-Martin Almqvist and trumpeter Karl Olandersson are compact and constrained gems that sparkle within the orchestration.

Taking on two of the greatest modern jazz saxophonists in Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, Martin Sjöstedt’s writing allows no solo space for saxophones in Bird’s ‘Donna Lee’ or ‘26-2’ by Trane. Instead ‘Donna Lee’ is given over to the brass, and again features trumpeter Karl Olandersson and Hannes Junestav on trombone. The arrangement seeks to keep a lid on proceedings for the first couple of minutes in a dark and restrained introduction. A lady not to be held back, ‘Donna Lee’ is far to irrepressible and bursts forth swinging with the solos and the rhythm section take up the challenge.

Coltrane’s ‘26-2’ is allowed to burst forth from the outset, and almost flirts with bop more that the Parker tune and contains fins solos from trombonist Peter Dahlgren and the leader’s piano. Another Trane composition gets an airing in ‘Equinox’ and a well-paced arrangement that frames the theme in a refreshingly original score that lets the orchestra have their say before Nil’s Janson excellent trumpet solo and an imapssioned outing from tenorist Karl-Martin Almqvist.

Of the original compositions particularly effective is ‘Mulgrew’ with a full sounding orchestration that allows the woodwind and brass sections to shine before two contrasting solos from alto and baritone saxophones courtesy of Fredrik Kronkvist and Fredrik Lindborg.

The other of Sjöstedt’s compositions that I found affecting was the lovely ‘Tengtones’ that appears to celebrate everything that is special about a big band. An inherently gentle piece, the latent power of the band could be felt rather than heard as the Orchestra lead the chart through to another of the composer’s elegantly stated solos.

Throughout this fine album, Martin Sjöstedt leads the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra through original charts and fresh orchestrations of some well-loved classic compositions and in doing so leaves us in no doubt that the future of the big band, and indeed writing and arranging for large ensembles is in safe hands.