Swede sounds of Scandinavia's funkiest collective

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 12:00am

Just under a year on from Ulf Wakenius' performance here as part of last year's Leisure and Cultural Services Department's Jazz Up programme, we have another of the leading lights of Swedish contemporary jazz coming to Hong Kong.

Nils 'Redhorn' Landgren - so called not for reasons of association with bloodthirsty Vikings but because he plays a red trombone - is widely regarded as one of the finest European exponents of

his instrument.

Furthermore, he's bringing some good company with him. Rigmor Gustafsson and Viktoria Tolstoy are two of the country's most highly acclaimed vocalists, and tenor saxophonist Karl Martin Almquist, pianist Jonas Ostholm and bassist Thobias Gabrielson are all highly rated in their home country.

Sweden's love affair with jazz dates back to the 1920s, when the first 78s of the music were imported, and Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington all played there during the 30s.

In the post-second world war years, because of the highly appreciative audiences, American jazz musicians loved visiting the country. Charlie Parker undertook a Scandinavian tour in 1950 with an all-Swedish band, and Stan Getz recorded a jazz arrangement of a Swedish folk tune that became a standard, retitled Dear Old Stockholm. The tune was a favourite of John Coltrane.

Sweden became, and remained for decades, a popular home from home for expatriate American musicians who directly influenced the local players they gigged with, and Swedish musicians in turn made their own mark outside the country.

Landgren has done better there than most, having played with Thad Jones and led his own Nils Landgren Unit through well received festival performances.

His musical interests are engagingly Catholic. He is influenced by church music and Swedish folk tunes as well as by jazz and classical music, and is one of the few European musicians who can funk it up with the best of them.

He is also a busy session player, having appeared by his own reckoning on about 500 albums. One of the earliest of these was Abba's Voulez-Vous, which led to a lasting friendship with Benny Andersson, the group's keyboard player and half of its songwriting partnership.

Earlier this year, as a tribute to the band and with Andersson's blessing, Landgren went back to the studio where Abba had recorded their hits and cut new versions of them with his Funk Unit, released earlier this year in Europe and Scandinavia as Funky Abba. Andersson joined them on grand piano for a bonus track, When All is Said and Done.

A conscientious ambassador for Swedish jazz, Landgren has travelled widely with various troupes of Nordic improvisers, and is leading this particular ensemble through performances here, Shanghai and Beijing, which will reflect the sheer range he and the players are able to cover.

The original plan was for an open-air gig in Victoria Park, but failure to secure the necessary sponsorship has led to the programme being scaled down to three gigs, including one private performance at a gala dinner for the Swedish Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

On Wednesday, the musicians will broadcast live on Radio 3 from RTHK's studios, and on Saturday will appear at The Edge. The earlier part of the Edge evening is a private performance, but the doors open to the public at midnight.

The singers should be well worth hearing. Tolstoy, at 29, has been hailed as the 'First Lady of Swedish Jazz' - Silje Nergaard is Norwegian - and on her current album, Shining on You, is assisted by a strong cast of musicians including Landgren and Toots Thielemans, who delivered a superb performance at City Hall a couple of weeks ago with Kenny Werner.

Tolstoy's 1997 White Russian album - she is Leo Tolstoy's great, great granddaughter - was her Blue Note debut, and is widely considered to be her best recording to date. She was the label's first Swedish signing.

Singer/composer Gustafsson made the big move to the US in 1993 and achieved some success with her quintet in the New York City area, but returned to Stockholm in 1995 and is now signed to the German ACT label.

She has worked extensively with Sweden's leading jazz musicians, including Landgren who appeared on her last album, I Will Wait for You.

Tickets for Thursday's performance, part of RTHK's Music Beyond Borders series, are free. Book online at www.rthk.org.hk/special/musicbeyondborders/sweden.htm. Those attending are also invited to a 'Taste of Sweden' reception at 6.45pm. Inquiries: 2339 6425.