As a general proposition, Sweden produces more good jazz artists per capita than any other European country, or so it seems. And vocalists are no exception. Song stylist (and she is a stylist) Lina Nyberg follows in the footsteps and joins such notable vocalists as Monica Zetterlund, Jeanette Lindstrom, and Nannie Porres. Nyberg cites Zetterlund and Porres as inspirations along with American singers Bessie Smith, Ray Charles, Jimmy Rushing, and Nancy Wilson, whose influence is evident in Nyberg's delivery and phrasing. The Swedish singer has an affinity for using one-word titles for her albums. Previous CDs were Temper, Close, and Open. Her quintet album won the 1995 Swedish Grammy Award for jazz. Now comes Smile with a program of 11 standards and one Beatles' song. But the standards are delivered in a manner that is at the same time atypical and entertaining. Nyberg has her way with melody as she modifies the accents and phrasing for each tune. This stylistic approach is not just a mere affectation, but a legitimate and effective interpretation device that shows a close camaraderie for lyrics, and it works well. Her pronunciation of certain words is exaggerated, again for effect. She can be ardent and little girl sounding. The usually mournful "Good Morning Heartache" is done in a detached, straightforward way without any indication of regret. This tune also demonstrates the novel arrangements, another compelling feature of the album. Nyberg comes in with just Göran Klinghagen's guitar behind her, then Anders Persson's piano enters, followed again by guitar with Nyberg's voice playing the horn part. Unique arrangements and sounds are possible given the unusual instrumental configuration: piano, guitar, bass, and a cello with two violins. The dark, cloudy sound of the cello contrasts with the clarity of Nyberg's voice on "Wild Is the Wind." She also takes the time to sing the verse of several of the tunes. But it is the feeling of storytelling Nyberg conveys as she delivers the words. They're not treated as a bunch of letters and syllables, but as image creators that are to be transported to the listener. This album is like hearing a picture book and is recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan