Concert Diary: Stockholm Jazz Festival
The annual jazz extravaganza witnessed mind-boggling local and international talent – from boisterous big bands and smooth jazz trios to even an all-woman orchestra
Louis Armstrong once said, “I don’t need words…it’s all in the phrasing”. For me that very line would come to life many times over as I spent a magical week watching some magnificent musicians phrase away at the legendary Stockholm Jazz Festival [SJF] that was held from October 9th to 18th. The jazz extravaganza was attended by over 25,000 people who came to watch 150 acts across 43 stages and venues. I caught the festival from October 12th onwards and here’s what happened over that week.
Day 1: A Mellow High
It was a cold morning as winter had begun in Stockholm city. I had got in the night before and rose early the next morning. I was met at breakfast by the SJF manager, the cool Martin Frontman and we talked about the program for the coming week. Now, at festivals it is virtually impossible to attend every single concert because at times there are acts performing on different stages simultaneously. So I made a mental note to catch as many acts as possible for the next six nights.
I spent the day getting acclimatised to the Swedish winter, walking about exploring the area around the Scandic Grand Central Hotel where I was staying. Scandic are a huge hotel chain across Sweden and mine was in the centre of town in an area called Kungsgatan [King’s Street].
Soon came the evening and I met Martin at the hotel lobby as he was to take me to the first concert of the evening. The venue was a record store in the old town of Gamla Stan, called Plugged Records. It was a tiny place that had set out about 20 chairs and had standing area for around 15 people. I spent a bit of time browsing through records and mostly resisting buying everything in sight.
Soon enough it was time for the band to come on. Projecto Brazil! are a five piece that specialize in playing Antonio Carlos Jobim compositions along with their own. The band features leader Hans Olding on guitars, Sigurour Flosason on sax and flute, Pordis Jonsdottir on Cello, Morton Ankarfeldt on double bass and Ola Bothzen on drums and percussion. They played selections form their current album which was a mix of pieces by Jobim [“Rancho Nas Nuvens” and “Modinha”] as well as original pieces [“Tom” and “For Milton”].
On a mellow high from Plugged Records, we quickly hurried to the next venue, Fasching. Now I must tell you about Fasching — apart from being the organisers of the festival the venue has been a prime jazz venue since 1977. And many a jazz legend amongst many other fine world jazz musicians has played on the Fasching stage. And this night was to be the first of the next six memorable ones. And wonderfully, it was just opposite my hotel, I just cross the road and I’m in!
I walked in to an electric atmosphere; the place was packed. A table was reserved right next to the stage, so for the next couple of hours I got a ringside seat for the Dave Douglas Quintet. It was around 8.30 pm as the band walked onto stage to enthusiastic applause. Dave was a revelation for me, a master trumpeter and a soft-spoken band leader, he led his four merry musicians, Matt Mitchell on piano, Rudy Royston on drums, Jon Irabagon on Sax and Linda Oh on double bass, on a sublime sonic wave of magic improvisation and musicianship.
The night ended on a supreme high, and it was only just the beginning! I said my goodnights and walked across to my hotel on a cloud.
Day 2: Blown Away
The day went by quick enough and once again I found myself across the road at the legendary Fasching. Tonight was to be a special night. The Swedish radio station P2 has instituted an awards ceremony for Swedish jazz musicians since 1993. And tonight was the 2015 edition that was to take place at the venue. The awards were to be punctuated with performances by ensemble artists which would bring on guests from time to time. Apart from the awards that were given out, the in-between artists were interesting to watch, particularly Elsa Bergman – Festen which featured Isak Hedfarn on Clarinet, Lisa Ullen on piano, Erik Carlsson on drums alone with Elsa herself on Contrabass. The music was extremely experimental and not everyones cup of tea, but a band i really enjoyed was OddJob, a nice free jazz, cool vibe, horn section heavy outfit that made up for the experimental abstractness of the evening. The band has an amazing Trumpeter called Goran Kajfes who brought great heaviness to the music [he appears again later on as well].
The night ended on a tremendous high as many among Stockholm’s favourite musicians were playing and being awarded as well. I was amazed at the support and audience response that the jazz artists got.
Day 3: The Amazing All-Woman Orchestra
The day began with a list to the Swedish Music Hall of Fame. Right since the early 20th century Sweden has been at the forefront of popular music and has given the western world many legendary artists. A short five-minute taxi ride brought me to the building that housed the Hall of Fame. The managing director, the enthusiastic and ebullient Charlotte Wiking was there to welcome me and take me on a tour. It is extensive and expansive and great pains have been taken to give the visitor a meticulously chronicled experience of Sweden’s popular music journey. From Europe to Roxette, Yngwie Malmsteen to Opeth, and Robyn to First Aid Kit every single Swedish artist that has contributed to the journey has been represented. But the piece-de-resistance is the ABBA museum. A fans dream, an aficionados ecstasy, a newbies wonder…this is the best way to get to know a band that continues to have a lasting impact on pop culture and music. One has to spend hours in there to soak it all in and walk out dancing to ‘Waterloo’.
I headed back to the hotel for a quick change and fresh for the evenings program. It was to be a big band led by the legendary trombonist Nils Landgren [the man with the red horn] who was hosting a performance by an all woman ensemble led by versatile conductor and composer Ann-Sophie. I caught up with them at soundcheck and had a short sit down conversation. Upon learning that I was from India, Landgren mentioned that he had a great friendship with the late great Pandit Ravi Shankar and Anoushka. Ann-Sophie on the other has been a classical composer for awhile, but she revealed to me that she enjoys the freedom that big band composing brings to jazz music. And later, watching the performance to a packed house, it was easy to see the gusto and virtuosity with which the arrangements were played by each female member of the band.
Hunger pangs began to make my stomach rumble so I headed back to Fasching, which was effectively the headquarters of the festival [and organisers too] for a glass of Camden Pale Ale and some hot vegetarian food [tomato/basil Risotto, the only dish they had on the menu]. I then headed back to another place in the old town of Gamla Stan called Stampen, where Jesse’s New Orleans band was playing. Now I’m also a fan of the New Orleans ragtime sound and find it quite invigorating, so off I went. Stampen is like walking into someone’s attic from the 1900s, the only difference is it has a bar and a tiny corner stage for musicians to do their thing. Thoroughly vintage and exquisitely ancient yet the modern audience brought it alive. Jesse Lindgren and his band are a merry bunch of old timers who know how to rabble-rouse an audience. And pretty soon the whole place was like a jumping jellybean. I left with a bounce in my step and a song in my heart.
Day 4: Silent Thrill
Three days were already done so fast I already felt myself getting wistful at the prospect of it all getting over. But I quickly shook myself and decided to look forward to the next few days which were going to be even more exciting. It’s one thing to head to various quirky and premium venues to listen to some superb jazz music but it was an entirely magical experience that award me on the evening of this day. But before i tell you what, let me say that I am a huge devotee of the Silent Era of films and have a huge ongoing collection of silent films from 1898-1927. Now this evenings program was to take place at the Swedish Film Institute, a place I had visited once before and was excited to go back again, being the film buff that I am. The program was a screening of a silent classic from 1927, the legendary Clara Bow film, ‘It’, a sweet romantic comedy that set the standard for most genre films since. But the difference here was the screening was to be accompanied by a band playing a jazz score live as the film played out, just as it used to be back in the era! This was a dream come true as I had always longed for such an experience.
So there I landed up, walked through the hallways of the institute, which were decorated with huge posters of Ingrid Bergman, and made my way into the theatre. The band that was to play the arrangement was a jazz band called MusicMusicMusic. A three piece that was piano, bass and drums. Now I could spend the next three pages waxing eloquent about what a magical experience it was. The band nailed the emotions and story like they were from the era itself.
After it was over I went over to chat with the very young and talented musicians and spoke of them coming over to Mumbai and playing a few. They were enthusiastic and full of joy at the prospect. I left with three of their albums and have been playing it very frequently since. This really made my night and I just wanted to savor it as much as possible. I hung around at the Film institute a bit more checking out the various exhibits on display and then gradually made my way back to the hotel for a good night’s ‘silent’ sleep.
Day 5: When Goran Blew His Trumpet
This was going to be an interesting evening. The program was to watch a performance of Goran Kajfes Subtropic Arkestra [Orchestra]. A bit of research brought me the information of a very prolific and multifaceted musician. Goran, who has Croatian roots, is essentially a Swedish trumpet player who has lent his talents to a variety of music projects and musicians per se. He has played with artists such as Stina Nordenstam, Mando Diao, Eagle-Eye Cherry, Janet Jackson, Sugababes and even Bo Diddley, not to mention playing in bands like OddJob and the free jazz project Naka Forum. And as I sat there that evening, I heard a soundscape that was intensely gratifying and unsettling at the same time.
It was progressive, symphonic, brooding…anything but traditional in the sense that we know jazz as. And as much as I’m trying to draw parallels and comparisons, I cannot. And even if something does come to me I don’t think I shall ever reveal those parallels because this was as amazing as it got. Goran has the soul of Miles Davis, the heart of Dizzy Gillespie and the joi-de-vivre of Louis Armstrong in his playing. Heavy attributes, I know, but such it is. After it was over I walked across the street feeling like was in a 1970s movie and went to bed in a Quincy Jones haze.
Day 6: Jazz Like I’d Never Heard Before
Nothing prepared me for what I was to experience this evening. The venue was a place called ‘Stallet’, Swedish for Stables, which is what the place was in medieval times. But it has been converted to a venue and institution for the performance and proliferation of folk and world music from around the world. I was ushered into a small waiting area from where I was guided up a single flight of spiral stairs into a quaint ‘wooden’ room [Everything, from the floor and the furniture to the roof and the stage in that room, was made of wood]. act was a trio called Garizim and they billed themselves as progressive music from Scandinavia. This evening was also the release of their second album, See The Birds Are Coming.
I caught a seat not far from the stage and soon enough three gentlemen took the stage, Jordi Hejlm on double bass, Elias Frigard on Saxophones and Johannes Hellman on the Hurdy-Gurdy [look it up]. After a bit of talk in Swedish [none of which I understood, of course] they started playing. Now I was not really expecting much, having been to a fair amount of folk and fusion performances in the past. But once again I was thrown a curveball, and completely blown away. For the next hour or so, I was treated to a powerful wave of the most unique amalgamation of sounds I have ever heard. Most of which was made unique due to the Hurdy-Gurdy. But apart from Jodi and Elias being stellar musicians with their instruments Johannes brought his own life into his playing and superbly assimilated his sound into the playing of the other two. With some mind boggling arrangements and stellar playing, and pieces with titles like, ‘Song for Valentin’ and ‘calling out’ amor others, it was no surprise when Garizim the band returned for two encores!
After the concert I met up with Johannes and appreciated his work and playing to which he responded with utmost soft-spoken humility. I left with a copy of the album and it has been a friend on many a quiet night since then.
I quickly headed back to the hotel which had also become a venue for a few of the Jazz acts on the program. I was to catch a quartet called David’s Angels, vocal jazz with a touch of the melancholy. I had earlier caught up with the quartet and had a nice chat with them. Led by vocalist Sofie Norling along with Maggie Olin on keyboards, Michala Nielsen on drums and David Carlsson on Electric Bass, the band were enthused about talking to someone from India, and that too from Rolling Stone. We chatted about the Jazz scene indian and they said they would love to play in Mumbai someday. Michael by the way is a female and i quizzed her about the fact of her being a female drummer, the only one i saw on the festival. She revealed that she’s actually a piano player but picked up the drums on the way. All four revealed various influences ranging from Duke Ellington to Joni Mitchell to Miles Davis to even Lata Mangeshkar! (one of Sofie’s icons) And later that evening as I saw the band perform a selection of songs from their two albums, ‘What it Seems’ & ‘Substa’…and as Sofie sang ‘Stay for Awhile’, the audience seemed to want to do just that…for a long while.
Day 8: Final Adventure
And just like that it was the final day of the festival and I was already in withdrawal, but I knew the night was going to end with a legendary bang. The finale concert was to be held at the massive Koncerthusen [Concert House] and the artist was to be the legendary Chick Corea and his band The Vigil. Now to the jazzers reading this I don’t really need to tell you who Chick Corea is, but his band the Vigil is something else, Tim Garland from the UK on Sax, Del Puerto from Cuba on Double Bass, Marcus Gilmore from NY on Drums, Charles Altura on guitars and Lusito Quintero from Argentina on Percussion together they form the vigil and they played selections from the new self-titled album, pieces like Royalty and Pledge for Peace kept the audience enthralled right through to the encore, the applause for which lasted easily about five minutes.
Alas I was unable to get an audience with Chick himself but i did catch up with the band and paid my compliments. I learned that the band [without Chick] were all headed to catch the band at Fasching [one last time] over beers and food. I said I would see them there.
I walked in just in time to see Eight Black musicians take the stage, they called themselves The Soul Rebels and are a true blue New Orleans band. Julian Gosin & Marcus Hubbard on trumpet, Corey Peyton & Paul Robertson on trombone, Erion Williams, saxofone, Edward Lee, sousaphone, Derrick Moss on bass drum & Lumar Leblanc on snare drum…whew!. Now after being blown away by Chick Corea, I expected a nice mellow winding down to the festival, but no, this was one last ace that Fasching has up its sleeve. And what an ace it turned out to be. From the time that these funky gentlemen took the stage till the time they played their encores not a single person in the house was sitting down. Never have I seen a horn section heavy band rock the house in such a way. Apart from three original funky compositions they even managed to slip in some ‘horn-y’ versions of Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and of course the obvious ‘Uptown Funk’ by Bruno Mars. The joy of playing was so ingrained in them that they had almost infected the audience into believing that they were all James Brown!
I lingered on awhile after the band had left the stage, enjoying the almost empty club as the DJ continued playing Motown and Hip-Hop classics. The next day i was to leave for Spain to go spend a few days with a friend who lived by the beach in the city of Valencia, but that, my dear Jazzers, is a story for the B-side.
All images: Niclas Ribbarp