Good jazz players, like good wine, age well. Venerable Swedish jazz clarinet player, Putte Wickman, was in his early 70s when he performed at the Swedish Jazz Festival in 1993 and 1994. His playing was vigorous, energetic, and as compelling as it was when he started playing professionally in 1948 -- and his virtuosity more pronounced. At the 1993 festival, Wickman is joined by Roger Kellaway, and they apply their considerable technique and artistry to four standards and to a tune written by their friend Red Mitchell, with whom they both have performed. No improvisational style is alien to these two masters, whether it be advanced or traditional or somewhere in between, with each tune having a boppish tinge to it. Wickman, like Buddy DeFranco, and unlike Benny Goodman, was successful in adapting this difficult-to-play instrument to the modern idiom. "There'll Never Be Another You" opens with Wickman and Kellaway engaging in a very hip, avant-garde musical conversation and segues into some very sophisticated swing with Wickman taking some choruses at breakneck speed, belying his age. Mitchell's "Simple Isn't Easy" is an eight-minute-plus journey, during which the two players attack this tune from every musical perspective imaginable, as a pair and individually. Johnny Mercer's "Emily" is given a poignant reading, with Wickman spending most of the time in the clarinet's middle register providing a woody, vibratoless but rich tone. Kellaway's pensive, almost somber, extemporizing on "Just Friends" is one of the high water marks of the set. Given the musical kinship between these two, "Just Friends" is a fitting coda to the 1993 jazz festival program.
At the following year's festival, Wickman was joined by a trio of two of his countrymen and the American-born, Iceland-raised drummer Petúr Östlund. The quartet setting provides the opportunity for a more expansive approach to the music. One can be more musically extravagant with four rather than just two players. That point is made on the first cut, "Old Folks," where the listener is treated not only to some fine ensemble work, and Wickman's clarinet playing, but excellent bass by Dan Berglund and by Gösta Rundqvist's Bill Evans-like piano. The cohesiveness of the playing is nowhere better displayed on than on the bop anthem "How High the Moon," where the rhythm engages in an adventurous interplay with Wickman's clarinet, exciting listeners and players alike. "Days of Wine and Roses" provides the setting for a strong bass solo by Dan Berglund. A bonus is that not only is this CD first-rate aesthetically, but technically as well, as the sound is excellent -- another reason to add it to your collection.