New Reissues: Jan Lundgren Trio Plays the Music of Victor Young
From the 21 October 2016 edition of JazzFlashes, the Tennessee-based jazz blog written by Anton Garcia-Fernandez (reposted here with permission):
Last month, the newly formed Fog Arts label began what is an ongoing series of digital reissues of Jan Lundgren albums that have been long out of print due to the demise of the record label for which they were originally cut. The first two are songbook packages that concentrate on the work of Victor Young and Jule Styne, two great composers who aren’t usually the subject of such full-length projects by jazz musicians. A third album of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn tunes is slated for release next month, and it’s our intention to devote one Jazz Flash to each of these and other forthcoming Lundgren reissues, beginning with The Jan Lundgren Trio Plays the Music of Victor Young. By the time the Lundgren-led trio (with Mattias Svensson on bass and Rasmus Kihlberg on drums) entered the studio in Copenhagen in 2000 and 2001 to record this tribute to Young, one of the most celebrated film composers of all time, the Swedish pianist was well established, with a series of fine albums (Swedish Standards, Cooking! At the Jazz Bakery, Something to Live For) and collaborations with legendary jazzmen such as Herb Geller, Bill Perkins, Conte Candoli, and Arne Domnérus, to cite just a few. Lundgren had traveled to the U.S. to perform and had recorded twice in NYC. After cutting a whole CD of Ellington originals for the now-defunct Sittel label, he began to concentrate on the work of Great American Songbook songwriters who don’t usually receive as much attention as the Gershwins, Porters, Mercers, etc., and thus this album was born. The idea was, it seems, to focus on both Young’s well-known songs and some more obscure items from his prolific output. As it happened, it didn’t prove to be an easy task, as Lundgren himself has noted: “I couldn’t unearth any modern sheet music songbooks for either composer [he refers to Styne as well], and Young was particularly neglected. I found that curious—and a little bit shocking . . . Yet I also found it appealing, because I wanted to play songs by writers who hadn’t been done to death by everyone else.”
Lundgren was fortunate to be able to enlist the help of three excellent American artists—singers Stacey Kent and Deborah Brown, who handle the vocals on several of the tracks, and, particularly, the outstanding tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. They were all apparently touring European cities at the time and joined Lundgren’s trio in Denmark on some of these sessions, to which they contributed in a major way. New Jersey-born Kent bookends the album with pensive readings of the classic ballads “Ghost of a Chance” and “My Foolish Heart”, and she’s also featured on a bouncy “Street of Dreams”. Brown, who’s from Kansas City, approaches the beautiful “A Hundred Years from Today” in a delicate manner, very much in tune with Lundgren’s piano on that track, and then hastens the tempo on “Beautiful Love” and a scat-filled “Stella by Starlight”. Griffin, one of the greatest tenorists in jazz history, shows off his mastery on two very different selections: the uptempo “A Weaver of Dreams”, possibly inspired by the John Coltrane version, and the heartfelt ballad “When I Fall in Love”, which taps into Griffin’s most intimate persona. The latter is one of the highlights from the album, prompting these telling words from Lundgren: “When we’d finished the take, I noticed a tear in the corner of [Griffin’s] eye. ‘I was thinking of Ben,’ Johnny quietly told me, referring of course to the great Ben Webster. It was a very emotional moment.” And it is, indeed, a rendition that would have made the Brute proud!
The trio is featured on the other five songs, which again range from Young classics to lesser-known compositions. Lundgren’s piano shines on the uptempo “Sweet Sue (Just You)”, one of Young’s most enduring offerings, and “Love Letters” is given a Latin treatment that proves to be a good vehicle for Svensson’s bass. “Song of Delilah” may sound like an odd choice at first, but its hip R&B arrangement actually turns it into one of the most memorable moments on the album. Very few probably remember the Ray Milland movie for which Young wrote “Golden Earrings”, but the tune is lovely, and Lundgren treats it gently and with quite a bit of easy-going swing. Finally, “Alone at Last” is another of those obscurities that Lundgren is so adept at digging up, a film ballad that lends itself perfectly to the trio’s relaxed approach. Overall, this is undoubtedly one of the best entries in Lundgren’s ever-growing discography, and true jazz fans should be thankful to Fog Arts for making its content available again as digital downloads and on all major streaming platforms. We look forward to seeing the rest of these long-deleted albums back in circulation after so many years.
Anton Garcia-Fernandez, JazzFlashes
Jan Lundgren: Styne and Young
From the 23 September 2016 edition of JazzWax, the daily blog written by Wall Street Journal contributor Marc Myers (reposted here with permission):
In 2001 and 2002, Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren released songbook tributes to Jule Styne and Victor Young, respectively, featuring his trio and special guests. Within a few years, the prized releases, recorded in Copenhagen on the Sittel label, disappeared and were available only through independent sellers for upward of $155. Now, The Jan Lundgren Trio Plays the Music of Jule Styne and The Jan Lundgren Trio Plays the Music of Victor Young are available once again—this time digitally from Fog Arts as downloads and streaming.
On The Jan Lundgren Trio Plays the Music of Jule Styne, we hear Jan Lundgren (p), Mattias Svensson (b), Morten Lund (d), plus special guests Eric Alexander (ts), and Mark Murphy and, Cæcilie Norby (v).
Norby sings on Make Someone Happy and The Party’s Over; Murphy is on What Makes the Sunset and The Things We Did Last Summer; and Alexander is on It’s You Or No One and Guess I’ll Have to Hang My Tears Out to Dry. The balance is handled by the trio: You Say You Care, People, Dance Only With Me, Time After Time and I Fall in Love Too Easily.
On The Jan Lundgren Trio Plays the Music of Victor Young, the lineup is Jan Lundgren (p), Mattias Svensson (b), Rasmus Kihlberg (d), with special guests Johnny Griffin (ts) and Deborah Brown and Stacey Kent (v). Griffin plays on A Weaver of Dreams and When I Fall in Love; Brown sings on A Hundred Years From Today and Stella By Starlight; and Stacey sings on Street of Dreams and My Foolish Heart. The trio plays I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance, Song of Delilah, Golden Earrings, Sweet Sue Just You, Love Letters, Alone at Last and Beautiful Love.
Both are perfect albums. The songs were marvelously chosen as were the special guests. To hear the late Mark Murphy with Jan on What Makes the Sunset and, even better, The Things We Did Last Summer makes you wish the pair recorded a dozen albums together. They were perfectly matched in temperament and mood, which you can hear in Murphy’s all-in vocalese. Murphy’s songs are the high points of both dates. Which takes nothing away from the other vocalists on both albums. They are superb, with Stacey delivering pure heartbreak on hers and Norby and Brown giving us flawless full-feel renditions on theirs. Brown is especially terrific on The Party’s Over, with shades of Nancy Wilson.
As we hear on the Young collection, particularly on A Weaver of Dreams, Griffin was still in his prime in 2001. He always sounded up on his toes, soloing like a dancer and wailing with slides here and there. A strong and bold performance. Alexander is given an uptempo tune and a ballad, so we get to hear him in two different modes, both forthright and smooth.
Jan is spry on uptempo numbers (think Bill Evans and Alan Broadbent) and soulfully pensive on the slower tunes without bogging down or brooding too much. His technique is completely in touch with the American jazz approach while he retains a distinct Scandinavian depth. Both albums were brilliantly produced when released and remain so today. They shouldn’t be missed.
As Jan recently told Guy Jones, an English financial consultant who has lived in Sweden with his wife and family since 2010: “These albums have a rare and special place in my discography. I’ve never recorded anything else which involved quite as many jazz greats, and I’m unlikely to get quite the same opportunity again. It was simply wonderful to work with these hugely talented artists in exploring the songs of two such genius composers.”
Marc Myers, JazzWax