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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf

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Shikantaza [4:52], Koan 3 [4:13], El Piloto [4:53], A Gentle Heart [4:58], Iceland [4:46], He Who Sings And Sobs [3:34], Too Good To Me [5:31], Romantic [3:25], Uroboros [5:39], Jamal [5:04], Koan 2 [4:34], The Organist [4:48], Hippocampus* (Woodwinds 5) [1:51]

Lars Jansson (piano), Thomas Fonnesbæk (bass), Paul Svanberg (drums)

On Hippocampus: Charlotte Norholt (flute), Peter Kirstein (oboe), Svante Wik (clarinet), Erik Sandberg (horn), Etienne Boudreault (bassoon)

All compositions by Lars Jansson

rec. at Nilento Studios, Kållered, Sweden 19 & 20 January, 2012 *in 2008 at the same studios. [58:08]


The last jazz review I wrote was of another trio and wasn’t very complimentary containing, as it did, music with almost no variation in tempo and with virtually a single speed: slow with boredom setting in very quickly. Also every song was an original composition and I longed to hear what the trio could do with a standard; how different this disc is and despite all the songs here being Lars Jansson originals they have that quality that leads you to believe you already know them. Here there is variety in tempo and that keeps your interest alive and each song stands on its own rather than melding into a single homogenous soup. Lars Jansson who has played with the likes of Jan Garbarek and Red Mitchell has a pedigree that has resulted in his trio being considered as one of the leading jazz groups in Sweden which as a country has punched well above its weight in jazz terms for many years. One of the interesting things I was struck by while listening was that the trio has a sound that is big enough to sound greater than a sum of three parts. Regrettably there is no booklet with the disc and all I had to go on are a few notes from Jansson on the inside cover which explain the motivation behind the present disc. In these words he explains that apart from family members, friends and musicians the music is principally inspired by the Japanese people whose people and culture he has loved and respected for a long time and is especially dedicated to the victims of the 2011 tsunami. In addition he explains that the disc’s title Koan is a method used in the Zen Rinzai sect of Buddhism to question and evaluate a monk’s state of spirituality and that in his opinion music is a kind of Koan though ultimately, as he says, how music affects people and the experience they have with it goes beyond anything we can analyse. However, that aside I shall give my best shot at saying how it affects me. Looking up the relevant Buddhist practise online I discovered that “Zazen is considered the heart of Zen Buddhist practice. The aim of zazen is just sitting, that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them”. Apparently there are three ways of teaching this comprising concentration, Koan Introspection and Shikantaza and the latter is the title of the first track. Shikantaza as Jansson explains “is the highest, purest form of zazen, which is to rest in a state of brightly alert attention that is free of thoughts and objects”. Certainly the music is bright, beginning with an exciting but gentle roll on cymbals before being joined by piano and bass but still accompanying those in the same vein while the other hand drums more conventionally leaving you to wonder how he does it (overdubbing perhaps?). Koan 3 begins with a ‘japanese’ sounding theme though that changes after a few bars only to return at the end. El Piloto is one of those originals that you’re sure you know but you don’t. It’s a great little tune as is A Gentle Heart which has a really convincing ‘Great American Songbook’ feel to it. Iceland exuded a feeling of warmth rather than cold with some really cool bass playing in it from Thomas Fonnesbæk while Jansson’s piano is always full of interest and with the backing of intelligent drumming from Paul Svanberg the combination is a winning one. He Who Sings And Sobs is what seems to me to be a typically introspective ‘japanese’ sounding title though the music didn’t sound it as it bounced along in a merry way with pleasing solos from bass and drums. Too Good To Me is a really laid back gentle little tune that makes you feel that everything’s right with the world and we can do with plenty of those in these hard times! Romantic had a Scottish sound to me and I wonder if I’m correct in thinking that’s where the inspiration came from. Uroboros which is an ancient symbol showing a serpent eating its own tale is often said to represent cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself. That sounds as if that could be relevant here on a disc that has zen involved in it though the word doesn’t appear to have any specific Japanese connection apart from also being the title of an album of a Japanese metal band. In any event it is another really enjoyable little tune which shows Jansson’s great piano playing talent. Jamal is another great little tune; Jansson seems to have never ending compositional ideas. Koan 2 must have a connection with the second track though it wasn’t obvious to me so I just chilled and enjoyed it for its own sake; an easy thing to do. The Organist is a title I couldn’t understand but seeking meanings in jazz titles is usually fruitless so again I just enjoyed its lovely melody and the trio’s superlative playing. The final track Hippocampus subtitled Woodwinds is exactly that: 1:51 of a wind quintet playing a beautiful classical piece and I imagine the only connection with the rest of the disc is that Jansson also wrote it making me wish he’d write more in the classical genre as this showed real promise in that direction. This disc was a really enjoyable hour of jazz trio that made me want to further explore Jansson’s output and of his trio in particular. All three play in a really harmonious way producing great sounds that belie the fact that there are only three of them. Trio composition must be quite tricky with only one lead instrument but Jansson clearly has no difficulties whatsoever in creating plenty of interest and this disc will appeal to all jazz trio lovers and plenty more besides.

Steve Arloff

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