Putte Wickman

Sound of Surprise

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Clarinet-led jazz ensembles are something of a rarity outside the downtown New York scene, so Putte Wickman's 1969 quartet with the wonderful pianist Lars Sjösten is a treat to hear anytime. Recorded live at a Stockholm club called the Pawnshop, this set reveals Wickman at the very height of his powers as a melodic improviser who took much of his notion of phrasing from saxophonist Paul Desmond and from fellow clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre. The program is mostly standards since this was a kind of loose jam group and was the recording debut of drummer Per Hulten, who went on to play with Flip Phillips, Barney Kessel, Zoot Sims, Dexter Gordon, and others. The set opens with "Laura," simply articulated and lyrically graced by the sheer elegance of Wickman's improvising. From here the band launches into a stomping B-flat blues that features Wickman burning down the entire joint for 28 choruses with a solo that isn't the equal of any solo in the history of recorded jazz. The harmonic invention of these changes is literally astonishing when one considers how limited they are as blues changes. On "Willow Weep for Me," "The Song Is You," "I've Never Been in Love Before," and the closing "Autumn Leaves," the band moves back into their intimate, close inspection of the ballad. But there isn't a dull moment because the playing here, expertly nuanced and articulated, more than makes up for the simplicity of original sources with pure inspiration.

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