From the first notes of "Nationsjazz," it's clear that this Lars Hollmer CD will be one of the most stunning efforts of the Swedish composer, bandleader, and accordionist/keyboardist's lengthy musical career. The tune is explosively performed here, with Ruins drummer Tatsuya Yoshida slamming through the shifting rhythms, Wataru Ohkuma wailing on the clarinet, and violinist Yuriko Mukoujima joining with the clarinetist to drive Hollmer's themes into Mahavishnu-esque territory. But as is typical for a Hollmer disc, "Nationsjazz" is merely an opening salvo in a multifaceted effort that ranges through many traditional and contemporary music styles while hanging together in remarkable fashion. Many previous compositions are revisited here: "Nationsjazz" and the live bonus "Hoppas Att Det Går," the latter recorded at the Tokyo club Mandala-2, are from Från Natt Idag; "Samma Zanzibar" and "Parallel Angostura" can be heard on the Looping Home Orchestra's Door Floor Something Window; "Växeltango" and the darkly beautiful "Novelty" are highlights of the odds-and-ends collection Vandelmässa; "AKA Session" revs up the comparatively hypnotic "Akarondo" from Vill du Höra Mer; and "Arp. Violin" first appeared as part of the 17-minute "Augustin Lesage" suite, Hollmer's contribution to the Hardis Bruts various-artists compilation (an homage to "raw art" on the French In-Poly-Sons label). Although these pieces are not "new" per se, they are truly reinvigorated here and stand apart from the earlier versions, attesting to the strengths of the original compositions and the skills of the musicians themselves. All six of Hollmer's Japanese bandmembers (also including cellist Hiromichi Sakamoto, keyboardist Kazuto Shimizu, and guitarist Kei Fushimi) are uniquely attuned to the composer's work, and push it to energetic heights.
"Trampumpa" begins as pure circus fanfare, a soundtrack to big-top clowns and trapeze artists, before suddenly erupting into a dramatic bridge and careening prog-fusion episode: the lions and elephants have escaped their human captors and listeners are no longer in the realm of lighthearted entertainment. "Arioso Nearaway" is entirely different in mood yet structured somewhat similarly, with a beautiful traditional-flavored introduction in an alternating 6/4 and 7/4 meter that serves as a shimmering showcase for Mukoujima before the rhythm is suddenly punched up and the piece segues into a dark orchestral climax. In the hands of a lesser composer and band, these might be ill-fitting juxtapositions; here, they are perfectly complementary. Of course, Hollmer and band balance the fiery with an understated elegance, as natural as taking one step after another. "Continue" is a lovely vocal track recalling "Kvar Om Igen" from Andetag, with Lasse singing in a style comparable to Canterbury-related vocalists like Robert Wyatt and Caravan's Pye Hastings at their most restrained and melodic. The jaunty "Samma Zanzibar" is insistent in its upbeat tempo, keyboard arpeggios, and bright melodies voiced by accordion and clarinet, while the whole band jams out in rollicking 9/8 during "AKA Session," which literally collapses from its own enthusiasm. "Novelty," a midtempo waltz of wistfulness and melancholic touches, features a singing saw played by Sakamoto without a hint of irony. And after the fires burn and die out, there is "Yrsa Requem," a remembrance of a beloved pet, with a heart-tugging touch that will not be revealed here. Hollmer covers so much musical and emotional territory on this CD -- with his usual combination of skill, enthusiasm, warmth, and heart -- that in the early 2000s he seemed almost without peer. And in SOLA he had found six of his finest young collaborators ever.