There is a certain beauty to the music of Lena Willemark, Jonas Knuttson, and Mats Oberg that defies easy description. The trio identify as jazz, but as broad as that term is, it does not do justice their new album, Alla Drommars Sang. Maybe it comes from their Swedish heritage, and a culture that I am not very familiar with. But there is more to it than that. Music is universal, not geographical, and there is something about this recording that drew me in immediately. After numerous spins, the attraction has only grown deeper. Alla Drommars Sang translates to Song of Dreams, which is about as apt a title as I could think of for this album.
Lena Willemark (vocals, violin, viola) is described as a "major voice in Swedish folk music," which does not surprise me. Her voice has an earthy quality, an honesty if you like, that adds a very distinctive element to the songs she sings on. Her violin and viola playing is just as important, as it takes many of the pieces in directions one would never have expected.
There is a strong sense of mystery to this music, and much of it comes from the saxophone of Jonas Knuttson. He is a large man, with a "big musical appetite," yet on Alla Drommars Sang his horn never overpowers the songs. Knuttson's sax adds a marvelous accompanying voice to everything. I have heard it said that the best players know what not to play, because that is the hardest thing of all. It is clear that Knuttson knows this instinctively.
Mats Oberg's piano may well be the "other" aspect of this music that makes it so special. His playing provides the glue that holds everything together, but there is more to it than that. On many of the songs, the precise command of his playing seems to lift the music into an entirely different realm.
The individual parts are superb, but there is something of a musical alchemy that catches hold when the three play together. It drew me in from the opening notes of the first track, "Norrskensbrand." The three musicians blend together perfectly here, and produce a sound all their own. This Swedish jazz cum folk mode continues on such songs as "Limberg," "Jag Unnar Dig," and others.
For this listener, the instrumental interplay between Knuttson and Oberg is key. I was especially entranced by the way the two interact during "Laungga Tid," among other tracks. The brilliance of these musicians cannot be overstated.
There is more to Alla Drommars Sang than "just" these alluring tones though. Another very intriguing direction they pursue is heard in "Kambhoji." This song virtually defines what came to my mind when I pondered the name of their record label, Country & Eastern. Willemark's violin has morphed into a fiddle on this cut, and "Kambhoji" is the first Swedish hoedown I have ever come across.
The album's closing "Ja-Ia" is perhaps the most intriguing. I thought I had recognized the name of Mats Oberg from somewhere, and it was on this track that I made the connection. He is one half of the Mats/Morgan Band, whose Cuneiform Records release The Music or the Money from 2010 is exceptional. I am glad that I did not make the connection immediately, because it probably would have clouded my expectations, in one way or another. "Ja-Ia" is the trio's most overt foray into the avant-garde, and on it they all really flex their musical chops. It is a great way to end the album, and only leaves the listener wanting more from this very impressive trio.
As mentioned earlier, Alla Drommars Sang is available from the Swedish label Country & Eastern, who have a number of other releases in their catalog as well. The label has been a great find for me, and I will be reviewing more of their titles here in the future. For those interested in jazz of a unique and very satisfying nature, I would suggest checking out the label at their website. If Alla Drommars Sang is any indication, there is a great deal more fascinating music there, just waiting to be discovered.