The term lagom
is essential to the Swedish soul. There's no direct translation into English or any other language, but positive connotations of the word include "in balance" and "just the right amount," with the Swedish proverb Lagom är bäst
translated as "Enough is as good as a feast." An aural equivalent of lagom
can be found in the sublime four-CD set Trio Con Tromba (with Uppsala Chamber Soloists).
A chamber-jazz group active in the eighties, Trio Con Tromba ("Trio with Trumpet") was composed of three seminal Swedish jazz musicians: trumpeter Jan Allan
, pianist Bengt Hallberg
, and bassist Georg Riedel
. The enormously popular group released several LPs, and eventually disbanded in the late eighties.
Decades later, like a miraculous time capsule, a treasure trove of unreleased recordings from Trio Con Tromba has come into the light. The music is a thoughtful compilation of previously unreleased material, including some tracks from private collections. The set has been organized into four distinct sections that echo and reflect one another, allowing each CD to meld smoothly into the next. The recordings sound absolutely fresh despite the passage of time, partly a result of the excellent sound quality, but largely due to the timeless, lyrical charm of this music. And here's where lagom
comes in: throughout the four CDs, the trio plays with exquisite tastefulness, an understated artistry infused with warmth. This quality above all holds the set together, making it one of the most generous releases in recent memory.
The first CD finds Trio Con Tromba with the Uppsala Chamber Soloists, a group composed of two violins, two violas, a cello, and a bass. Mixing jazz with strings can be an uneasy business; without the proper balance, strings can easily tip into sappiness on one side, or frenzy on the other. But the combination of these two groups is delectable: both groups mine their strengths, and neither one overshadows the other. The ten pieces were recorded in Stockholm over three days in 1985, and the resulting synthesis offers a marvelous example of third-stream fusion.
There's two suites, one by Riedel and one by Hallberg, who are both masterful composers (more on that in a moment). Riedel's "Breakfastmusic" has three movements, with the first movement light and lively, the second reflective and featuring Allan's majestic, mournful trumpet, and the third movement starting out slowly, like someone just waking up, and then bursting into daylight as Allan sounds a bluesy clarion call. There's also a nice bit of cacophony at the end of the third movementand this is also part of the trio's balance, these seamless interjections of the unexpected. Hallberg's suite, "Settimino con piano" ("Sextet with piano") features just Hallberg with the Uppsala group. The first movement is stately and noble, with distinctive jazz flourishes that lend spice to the music; the second movement finds Hallberg spirited and playful, his light, eloquent swing dancing above and around the strings; and the third movement has a golden melody that's pregnant with melancholy. Altogether the suite is a delight, suffused with elegance and style and an occasional hint of jazzy mischief.
Four remaining songs round out the CD. There's another Riedel composition, the eleven-minute "Etyd Kameleont" ("Etude chameleon"), an articulate, striking piece that indeed shifts colors as it progresses. As always, the trio shines: Allan plays with deliciously cool warmth, an exactitude of phrasing that's completely natural; Riedel's bass is rock solid, strongly supportive and yet oh so light and economical; and Hallberg offers a lengthy, multifaceted solo with moments of heartbreaking clarity and luminance. "Helena" is a palpably romantic piece by Staffan Sjöholm, the bassist in the Uppsala Group; it's a beautiful song where Allan once again displays his gift for conveying the rich heart of the melody. "Not at All," a composition by the legendary Swedish trombonist Eje Thelin
, is also pretty, with a melancholy mist floating throughout. The CD closes with a splendid take on Hoagy Carmichael
's "Stardust," the tune laced with Allan's lushly simple melodic statement and sprightly runs by Hallberg.
In addition to being masters on their instruments, the members of Trio Con Tromba are also accomplished composers. The second CD features Riedel's compositions, nine individual songs plus a four-part suite and a three-piece trilogy. Gems include "Enfant Terrible," an energetic melody that contains a jaunty call-and-response between Allan and Hallberg, as well as inspired runs by Riedel, who gets such a warm, full-bodied voice from his bass. "Striptease" is a fun, bouncy tune, with Hallberg's fingers practically dancing on the keys, and the tender ballad "Bo Brand" finds Allan playing with a wonderful vulnerability, lovingly savoring each note and delivering it with spine-shivering honesty. "Éclair" is a lilting piece featuring with a fine intro by Hallberg, and "Får jag lov" ("May I Have This One?") is a delight, a pretty song with a trace of Dixieland.
The quartet and trilogy are impressive compositions as well, further showcasing the group's ability to express a wide range of emotions, and to swing with a grace that's positively exquisite. "Sold I Music" ("Sold In Music") is just over nine minutes long, with four short movements: The first is buoyant with a wistful irony, the second more melancholy and contemplative, with Allan's trumpet once again accessing profound emotional depths. The third section attempts to shake off the sadness, moving upbeat with a lovely sparkle, and the fourth movement creates a release, offering a sprightly melody that glows with joie de vivre. The trilogy starts with "Samba Joyce," a warm, joyful song infused with samba energy; "Solitarity" holds the middle, a pensive tune full of hushed yearning; and the trilogy ends with the lively "Absolution," a burst of joy and optimism after a dark, lonely winter.
The third CD highlights ten compositions by Hallberg, which once again reveal the extraordinary telepathy between the three players, as well as each member's aptitude for crafting enchanting solos. "Bilingual" is a spiky, cheerful melody with a whiff of Fats Waller, and the solo piano piece "Intermezzo" is a pretty tune that displays Hallberg's assurance and warmth. The gorgeous ballad "Turning Around" starts with a delicate solo by Hallberg; when Allan comes in, his tone pierces the air with heartbreaking transparency, and Riedel shines throughout with his nuanced strumming. One of the loveliest songs of the entire set is "Norrsken," which means "Northern Lights." A duet between Hallberg and Riedel, the refined melody features Hallberg's crystal-clear piano, with Riedel's gentle, sensitive support. The piece is full of wonder and delicacy, a charming dance of shifting lights.
Riedel also provides a trilogy: "Waltz-A-Nova" is a graceful tune with nice rhythmic flair and a faint breeze of sadness. "Royal Rendez-vous" is slower and more stately; like many of the pieces in this compilation, it's candidly romantic, with the musicians exploring the tender fields of the human heart and offering sensitive, playful, and sometimes ironic perceptions. The closing song, "Ciel Couvert," means "overcast sky" in French. Despite the sorrowful title, the composition has a punchy, pretty melody, with currents of dry humor weaving throughout. Again, each piece is exquisitely arranged, with a gracious economy and lively balance that breathes them to life and makes them sing.
The final CD has fourteen standards that span the history of jazz. But no matter the era, Trio Con Tromba displays an elegant swing that is, once again, just the right amount. Early jazz tunes include the 1916 classic "Poor Butterfly," played at a leisurely pace with a dash of irony and a light, tasteful rhythm. There's a spacious version of the Hoagy Carmichael classic "New Orleans," with Allan's trumpet channeling the soul of the good old days, and Hallberg and Riedel supplying a web of subtle interplay. The George and Ira Gershwin tune "Lady Be Good" features Hallberg on solo piano, full of lithe flourishes as well as a flurry of joyful notes at the end. And "Limehouse Blues" is an absolute treat, sparkling with high spirits and another breathtaking solo by Hallberg.
Midcentury standards include "Opus 1," a vibrant tune executed by the trio with energy and class. "Star Eyes" is rich with Allan's cool, golden tone, plus a warmly resonant bass solo by Riedel and nice space for Hallberg, who cuts loose with some fine filigree. There's an agile version of Cole Porter
's "What Is This Thing Called Love," and the ballad "I Fall in Love Too Easily" is lovely and limpid, taken at a heartbreakingly slow tempo as Allan's trumpet pierces the song's poignant heart. Again, the swing is delectable throughout the songs, sometimes surging with toe-tapping verve, sometimes light and delicate as a Swedish pastry.
Later standards include a dazzling interpretation of "Valse Hot," the jazz waltz by saxophonist Sonny Rollins
. The tune starts with a luminous bass solo, and then Allan enters, his high notes sending chills down the spine. A lengthy version of trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater
's "Love and Harmony" is also scrumptious, the crisp, jaunty melody making way for ample solo space. "Eiderdown" by bassist Steve Swallow
is a charming, thoughtful song, with Allan's trumpet once again mining the touching depths within the melody. "Django" by pianist John Lewis
starts off pensive and then moves into a brisk swing, with Riedel digging into the song's bluesy core. The beautiful standards on this final CD are yet another illustration of the group's mastery, and their affection for the full range of jazz history is joyfully evident throughout.
In this generous musical gift from the past, the perfectly poised triangle of Trio Con Tromba offers a delicious smorgasbord of sounds. What joy to hear such exquisitely tasteful music, played with such precision and warmth. This is music that heightens the quality of life, and gives pleasure and brightness to the human condition. Indeed, as the Swedish proverb Lagom är bäst
states, "Enough is as good as a feast."
Tracks and PersonnelTrio Con Tromba with Uppsala Chamber Soloists
Tracks: Breakfastmusic (1st Movement); Breakfastmusic (2nd Movement); Breakfastmusic (3rd Movement; Settimino Con Piano (1st Movement); Settimino Con Piano (2nd Movement); Settimino Con Piano (3rd Movement); Etyd Kameleon; Helena; Not At All; Stardust.
Personnel: Trio Con Tromba: Jan Allan: trumpet; Bengt Hallberg: piano; Georg Riedel: bass. Uppsala Chamber Soloists: Nils-Erik Sparf: violin; Peter Engström: violin; James "Jim" Horton: viola; Anders Jakobsson: viola; Lars Frykholm: cello; Staffan Sjöholm: bass.Trio Con Tromba Plays Georg Riedel
Tracks: Enfant Terrible; Bo Brand; Medium Love; Morgonväkt; Striptease; Ramsa För Trumpet; Pojke I Dimma; Sold I Music (1st movement); Sold I Music (2nd movement); Sold I Music (3rd movement); Sold I Music (4th movement); Samba Joyce; Solitarity; Absolution; Éclair; Får jag lov (May I Have This One?).
Personnel: Jan Allan: trumpet; Bengt Hallberg: piano; Georg Riedel: bass.Trio Con Tromba Plays Bengt Hallberg
Tracks: Bilingual; El Sippo; Intermezzo (For Solo Piano); It Was Nothing; Norrsken; Turning Around; Waltz-a-Nova; Royal Rendez-Vous; Ciel Couvert; Horse's Neck.
Personnel: Jan Allan: trumpet; Bengt Hallberg: piano; Georg Riedel: bass.Trio Con Tromba Plays Standards
Tracks: I Fall In Love Too Easily; Poor Butterfly; Star Eyes; Valse Hot; Love and Harmony; What Is This Thing Called Love; Eiderdown; Django; New Orleans; Limehouse Blues; Lady Be Good; Sonny Boy; Opus 1; Top Hat.
Personnel: Jan Allan: trumpet; Bengt Hallberg: piano; Georg Riedel: bass.