The New York City Jazz Record review by Robert Iannapollo

Nacka Forum – Fee Fi Rum (Moserobie)
Zanussi Thirteen – Live (Moserobie)
Kullhammar/Zetterberg/Aalberg – Basement Sessions, Vol. 1 (CF 246)
With his first album Salut (2000), recorded with his quartet, Swedish saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar came seemingly from out of nowhere to make a major impact on the Swedish jazz scene. Released on his Moserobie label, Kullhammar soon established the label as an operation documenting similar-minded players on the Swedish jazz scene (trumpeter Magnus Broo, singer Lina Nyberg, et. al.). Kullhammar’s quartet has been the mainstay of the label and in 2010 celebrated its tenth anniversary with the release of a superb eight-CD boxed set.

Nacka Forum is one of Kullhammar’s alternate bands. A piano-less quartet, it features Goran Kajfeš (cornet, trumpet, electronics), Johan Berthling (bass) and Kjell Nordeson (drums and vibes). In addition to tenor, Kullhammar appears on baritone and bass saxes, piccolo, clarinet and mini-moog. A little more diverse than his standard quartet’s modus operandi of rousing freebop, there’s still a healthy dose of that on Fee Fi Rum as well as the musical wit for which Kullhammar is noted. Several of the pieces are ostinato-based and handled with a plomb. These ostinatos never get tedious due to Nordeson’s expansive, fluid drums, always keeping the rhythm interesting. Kajfeš’ spiky cornet seeks out weird trajectories and he intertwines nicely with Kullhammar’s reeds when they are playing in tandem, with the cornet/baritone sax combination particularly effective. While much of this is strong, energetic contemporary jazz, when they slow down for a ballad ( “Jimmy”) or a group textural exploration, the contrast is effective. Also mention must be made of the surprising use of timpani on “Borkum Riff”. Although Kullhammar’s freebop-based quartet has the cachet, Nacka Forum at its best sometimes eclipses Kullhammar’s main group.

Zanussi Five is one of Moserobie’s more popular groups, with three albums to their credit. Usually a quintet (three saxophones plus bass and drums) helmed by bassist Per Zanussi, for Live he adds a trombonist, guitarist, extra drummer and five more saxophonists (Kullhammar among them). With this expanded line up, the group becomes a wild, braying beast with beautiful massed choruses, screaming boisterous passages, plenty of creative soloing and more. When he is audible, guitarist Stian Westerhus adds an unexpected, edgy electronic tension, particularly effective when the saxophonists are going at it full-tilt. The compositions showcase the larger ensemble well. Several are rearranged from earlier releases (Ghibli, Body And Zeuhl, Zoanthropy 2) and an arrangement of Ornette ‘s “Street Woman” is one of the more unique handlings of the Coleman composition. Special mention has to be made of drummers Gerd Nilssen and Per Oddvar Johansen, who push this lumbering beast of a group to staggering heights. To his credit, Kullhammar works within the ensemble and is not the star of the set. The real star is the full 13-piece ensemble.

Kullhammar the improviser is heard at length on Basement Sessions, Vol. 1, recorded with bassist Torbjorn Zetterberg (a charter member of Kullhammar’s main quartet) and drummer Espen Aalberg. One gets the impression that Kullhammar just likes to blow and there’s always a joyful cadence to his playing. He seems to relish challenging himself and playing away from his main group is one way to get refreshed. On this disc, the absence of a pianist frees him up for more stratospheric flights, especially on the opener “As Tajm Goes By”. But for all the energy expended on the uptempo blowouts that dominate the disc, perhaps the best track is “Den Stora Vantan”, a baritone exploration, taken at a funereal pace. Kullhammar seems to wrench every sound he can from the instrument during the track’s nine minutes. The album’s skeletal themes allow for plenty of open space and seem to inspire the entire trio, making for a satisfying listen.

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