Kjell Jansson

Chelsea Bridge

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This set of Billy Strayhorn tunes by a Swedish quartet is a lesson in how to play traditional tunes for those who would follow such a route. Bassist Kjell Jansson and pianist Jan Zirk have reharmonized many of the standards in the Strayhorn book, and pulled out some rather unfamiliar ones as well, including "Isfahan" and "Three & Six," alongside more easily recognized numbers such as "Blood Count," the title track, and "The Intimacy of the Blues." And while it's true that this band is co-led by its pianist and bassist, the truth of the matter is that tenor sax hero Erik Norström is the force that drives this band to reach for something beyond mere imitation. If drummer Magnus Gran -- with his exquisite brushwork and skittering, dancing sense of rhythm (something Strayhorn loved in skin men) -- is included, here are the makings of a formidable quartet. Unfortunately, Jansson insists on taking the best breaks for himself and his thin, reedy tone. His playing is reminiscent of George Mraz: He hits all the notes, and fluently, but without any sense of wood. Still, the music is played with such respect and warmth here that the rendition of "Clementine" is moving for its forbearance alone. The sprightly "Johnny Come Lately" is also wonderful, with the sax and piano trading eights in the middle. However, the title track is one of those that, while very fine, cannot touch Ben Webster's version of the same. It's a wonder anybody covers it at all these days. Still, these Swedes have a solid handle on what interpretation really means: They read these tunes through the prism of the present rather than ape them for their former glory.

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