A companion site to 'The Vintage Bandstand,' this is a series of brief posts about all kinds of good jazz, written and published by Anton Garcia-Fernandez in Martin, Tennessee, U.S.A.
Friday, October 21, 2016
New Reissues: Jan Lundgren Trio Plays the Music of Victor Young
Last month, the newly formed Fog Arts label began what is an ongoing series of digital reissues of Jan Lundgren albums that have been long out of print due to the demise of the record label for which they were originally cut. The first two are songbook packages that concentrate on the work of Victor Young and Jule Styne, two great composers who aren't usually the subject of such full-length projects by jazz musicians. A third album of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn tunes is slated for release next month, and it's our intention to devote one Jazz Flash to each of these and other forthcoming Lundgren reissues, beginning with The Jan Lundgren Trio Plays the Music of Victor Young. By the time the Lundgren-led trio (with Mattias Svensson on bass and Rasmus Kihlberg on drums) entered the studio in Copenhagen in 2000 and 2001 to record this tribute to Young, one of the most celebrated film composers of all time, the Swedish pianist was well established, with a series of fine albums (Swedish Standards, Cooking! At the Jazz Bakery, Something to Live For) and collaborations with legendary jazzmen such as Herb Geller, Bill Perkins, Conte Candoli, and Arne Domnérus, to cite just a few. Lundgren had traveled to the U.S. to perform and had recorded twice in NYC. After cutting a whole CD of Ellington originals for the now-defunct Sittel label, he began to concentrate on the work of Great American Songbook songwriters who don't usually receive as much attention as the Gershwins, Porters, Mercers, etc., and thus this album was born. The idea was, it seems, to focus on both Young's well-known songs and some more obscure items from his prolific output. As it happened, it didn't prove to be an easy task, as Lundgren himself has noted: "I couldn't unearth any modern sheet music songbooks for either composer [he refers to Styne as well], and Young was particularly neglected. I found that curious—and a little bit shocking . . . Yet I also found it appealing, because I wanted to play songs by writers who hadn't been done to death by everyone else."
Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren
Lundgren was fortunate to be able to enlist the help of three excellent American artists—singers Stacey Kent and Deborah Brown, who handle the vocals on several of the tracks, and, particularly, the outstanding tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin. They were all apparently touring European cities at the time and joined Lundgren's trio in Denmark on some of these sessions, to which they contributed in a major way. New Jersey-born Kent bookends the album with pensive readings of the classic ballads "Ghost of a Chance" and "My Foolish Heart," and she's also featured on a bouncy "Street of Dreams." Brown, who's from Kansas City, approaches the beautiful "A Hundred Years from Today" in a delicate manner, very much in tune with Lundgren's piano on that track, and then hastens the tempo on "Beautiful Love" and a scat-filled "Stella by Starlight." Griffin, one of the greatest tenorists in jazz history, shows off his mastery on two very different selections: the uptempo "A Weaver of Dreams," possibly inspired by the John Coltrane version, and the heartfelt ballad "When I Fall in Love," which taps into Griffin's most intimate persona. The latter is one of the highlights from the album, prompting these telling words from Lundgren: "When we'd finished the take, I noticed a tear in the corner of [Griffin's] eye. 'I was thinking of Ben,' Johnny quietly told me, referring of course to the great Ben Webster. It was a very emotional moment." And it is, indeed, a rendition that would have made the Brute proud!
The trio is featured on the other five songs, which again range from Young classics to lesser-known compositions. Lundgren's piano shines on the uptempo "Sweet Sue (Just You)," one of Young's most enduring offerings, and "Love Letters" is given a Latin treatment that proves to be a good vehicle for Svensson's bass. "Song of Delilah" may sound like an odd choice at first, but its hip R&B arrangement actually turns it into one of the most memorable moments on the album. Very few probably remember the Ray Milland movie for which Young wrote "Golden Earrings," but the tune is lovely, and Lundgren treats it gently and with quite a bit of easy-going swing. Finally, "Alone at Last" is another of those obscurities that Lundgren is so adept at digging up, a film ballad that lends itself perfectly to the trio's relaxed approach. Overall, this is undoubtedly one of the best entries in Lundgren's ever-growing discography, and true jazz fans should be thankful to Fog Arts for making its content available again as digital downloads and on all major streaming platforms. We look forward to seeing the rest of these long-deleted albums back in circulation after so many years.
Anton and Erin Garcia-Fernandez