The Bobo Stenson Trio's ability to cover far-reaching idioms and wide-ranging repertoire within the scope of their personal diction has become both hallmark and custom. New York Times says the pianist "makes sublime piano-trio records without over-playing. It's pulsating, lumpy with long improvised phrases; it's alive." Charting a subtle and idiosyncratic path through originals and melodies derived from various Scandinavian composers, the group proves of a particularly supple alchemy on Sphere.
The current incarnation of Bobo Stenson's Trio, with Anders Jormin on bass and percussionist Jon Falt, has been active for almost two decades now, during the course of which they've recorded four albums - including this new one. The first, Cantando (2008), further investigated Bobo's fluent ability to cover a wide range of influences and idioms, seamlessly integrating the new configuration into his personal sound from the start. The record prompted The Guardian to say, "few contemporary jazz groups sustain an atmosphere as evocatively as Swedish pianist Stenson's trio, or conjure so many moods across a variety of material from Ornette Coleman to Alban Berg". Praise continued with follow-up Indicum (2012), The New York Times noting that Bobo "is rightly heralded for his subtleties of touch and mood", and then again with Contra La Indecision in 2018, which BBC Music Magazine called a "beautiful session", proving "that there is still much to be explored and revealed within this format." More revelations and proof of the trio's distinguished art are ever-present on Sphere.
Like the three previous albums, Sphere was recorded at the Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano, and the room's distinctive acoustics play into the trio's sound, intensifying the searching nature of their communication. Going into the studio with "more songs than usually", as Jon Falt points out, the trio boiled down the material to a concentrated investigation into originals and music inspired by compositions from Scandinavian composers Alfred Janson, Per Norgard Sven-Erik Back and Jean Sibelius. Anders: "Once we go into the studio we have more material than we believe will end up on the album, because we are improvising, so you never know. It's also a collaboration with Manfred Eicher, who is of course a very creative artist himself, so the way we play is also developed together with Manfred. "
The result of the prolific partnership between the trio and producer is marked by serene motions, a light touch and swift action, with part of the repertory being carved from 20th - 21st century compositions, transfigured and molded into colourful explorations of pace, rhythm and timbre. Danish composer Per Norgard's "You shall plant a tree" - originally set to words by the poet Piet Hein - bears hymnal cadences and appears twice, bringing the album full circle. The trio also refashions two pieces by Swedish composer Sven-Erik Back, bringing an ambient quality of acoustic discovery to "Spring" and turning "Communion psalm" into a platform for attentive rubato interplay, each player mindful of the space between them.
Among the originals in the programme are "Unquestioned Answer" - a stirring tribute to modernist composer Charles Yves - and "The red flower", which offers a rare window into the group's gentle approach to swing. In return, "Kingdom of Coldness" gives rise to some of Bobo's most fluent lines, framed in bountiful interplay. As for "Ky and beautiful madame Ky", a piece that borrows from the late Norwegian composer Alfred Janson, Bobo remarks how "normally we played it in a different way than how we recorded it. Manfred had lot of ideas about what we could do with the song and remodelled it with us. It brought something very new into the mix. But that's what he does. He brings out the musicians' best qualities. He feels what they are capable of doing in the moment, and then he captures that." Lastly, Jean Sibelius's "Valsette op. 40/1" through the trio's lens is an exercise in deconstruction, where the subject doesn't reveal itself until the very last bars, still in disguise.
- Vinyl LP
- Recorded at Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano
- Made in Germany
|Anders Jormin||double bass|
- You Shall Plant a Tree
- Unquestioned Answer - Charles Ives in Memoriam
- Kingdom of Coldness
- Communium Psalm
- The Red Flower
- Ky and Beautiful Madame Ky
- Valsette Op. 40/1
- You Shall Plant a Tree (var.)