Jazz Stockholm Jazz Orchestra plays the music of Ann-Sofi Söderqvist

Stockholm Jazz Orchestra plays the music of Ann-Sofi Söderqvist

It all starts off great! The opening composition Fire lives up to its name, as the SJO provides punchy brass, delicate flutes, with a rocksolid rhythm section, and Martin Sjöstedt swapping his customary double bass for an electric instrument. But for the next number composer, arranger and conductor Ann- Sofi Söderqvist introduces vocalist Lena Swanberg, who stays throughout.

The Standard Bank Jazz Festival has done no favours to Söderqvist by comparing her to her US “counterpart” Maria Schneider, here memorably last year. Although some of her orchestrations –

Nils Jason plays the trumpet with the world–renowned Stockholm Jazz Orchestra at DSG Hall venue. Photo: CuePix/Niamh Walsh-Vorste

Nils Jason plays the trumpet with the world–renowned Stockholm Jazz Orchestra at DSG Hall venue. Photo: CuePix/Niamh Walsh-Vorste

particularly Remembering Frida (a rich work attempting to capture some of the magic of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo) – might suggest a comparison, Söderqvist seems more concerned with using the orchestra as a backdrop for her striking vocalist, who sings the composer’s patchy lyrics (in English). She also uses her voice as an instrument. Four SA singers (Amanda Tiffin, Siya Makuzeni, Debbie Mari and Nomfundo Xaluva) join in on the last three compositions, looking just a little bit uncomfortable, like guests who have pitched at the wrong party. They are vocally fine, of course, especially in a swinging arrangement of Wham.

Songs (actual songs, not instrumentals) are arguably not the most suitable vehicle for a splendid big band like this. The first song A Bien Tot, which speaks of lost love – in one form or another – has a plaintive melody stronger than the lyric, while a ballad about creativity comes across as a jazz arrangement of what is basically a pop song. The final song Prayer asks for “the strength to choose love. Love is all”. It was prompted by a mass murder at a Norwegian youth camp. Again the lyrics are heartfelt, but the song’s strength lies in the composition and the arrangement. Swanberg’s voice soars impressively over the big sound of the band.

The concert ends on a light note: The Bear Walks in C is delightful, with bear-like Karl-Martin Almqvist showing us finally on his tenor that the bear can be gentle. The singers provide a catchy riff, and Ola Bengston delivers some tasty blues guitar.

The audience at DSG Hall seemed to have a good time. Söderqvist is a charming presenter, and the SJO is a classy, tight big band, which impresses as an ensemble but – being made up of outstanding musicians – really shines when solo time arrives. I just wanted more instrumental music from this composer/arranger.

 

By Nigel Vermaas 

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