Parisorkestern 1949 constituted the best and brightest stars of that era's Swedish jazz musicians. They were put together by jazz journalist Nils Hellström, who wished to take advantage of an open slot on the Paris International Festival of Jazz bill in order to showcase the brilliant talent found among the Swedish performers, then unknown even in greater Europe. The group consisted of names that are now familiar to many: singer Alice Babs, pianist Reinhold Svensson, saxophonists Arne Domnérus and Carl-Henrik Norin, clarinetist Putte Wickman, and trumpeter Gösta Törner. Rounding out the Parisorkestern were bassist Simon Brehm and drummer Sven Bollhem. After trying out their act a few times and conducting one recording date for the Swedish label Cupol, the Parisorkestern journeyed to Paris, where they caused a sensation. As Marian McPartland stated in her review of the show for Downbeat, "This was the only European band (at the Paris festival) that was relaxed and at ease." Though Parisorkestern 1949 disbanded immediately after this engagement, their appearance helped put Swedish jazz on the international map and to establish Sweden as a jazz-friendly nation. Throughout the 1950s and beyond, Sweden has become a key destination for jazz musicians from America, Europe, and elsewhere; this Dragon CD represents when and where it all started.
Since the nature of the project was designed mainly for only the one festival appearance, the repertoire of tunes played by Parisorkestern 1949 is rather limited; their boppy, fast-tempo version of "Idaho" is heard three times on this disc; "Body and Soul," "Sugar," "Tea for Two," and "Indiana" are heard twice. As all but five of the 21 selections are taken from European broadcasts, there is a fair amount of spoken announcements given in Swedish or French; if you aren't on speaking terms with either of the languages, these portions of the disc may not do much for you. Nonetheless, everything else about Swedish Jazz All Stars is highly enjoyable. The five Cupol studio sides are strong, with Babs' warm and personable performance of "Blue Prelude" being a standout. The audio quality of the 1949 Malmö concert included here, not previously released in any form, is outstanding for a European radio broadcast of the period. A 1959 "reunion" date from Stockholm is likewise preserved in excellent sound. The Paris portion of the disc, previously issued on a Phontastic LP, is in far worse shape than the rest. The sound is similar to that of the famous Miles Davis/Tadd Dameron date from the same 1949 festival, except that it is even less distinct and noisier, suggesting that the original discs are no longer extant (as they are for Davis) and a second-generation tape was used instead.
In the Paris segments (really fragments, as none of the four selections are complete), it is blind pianist Reinhold Svensson who is driving the bus. One can imagine the impression his tremendously exciting playing must've made at the festival -- it's like Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Erroll Garner all rolled into one artist. Elsewhere, the others are generally heard to good, and even great, advantage: Babs is stunning in every instance where her singing is present, Domnérus and Norin contribute vibrant and healthy sax work, and Wickman provides some of the most imaginative bop clarinet this reviewer has heard; it seems the Swedes really knew how play bop on the blackstick. The only weak link is trumpeter Törner, and that's only on one track, as he stumbles badly during his Malmö showcase, "I Can't Get Started." However on the following cut, "Truckin'," the whole band is smoking, and the excitement of the Malmö audience is likewise palpable -- too bad this track is over in a little less than two minutes. If you're interested in European jazz of the postwar period, you can't afford to be without this Dragon disc. Both essential and highly recommended.