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Pianist Stenson explores textured blend of emotions

November 09, 2005|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The piano trio may be the most potentially versatile of all the small acoustic jazz groups. With the piano -- a virtual orchestra in a box -- as the centerpiece and the potent team of bass and drums as the rhythmic engine, the creative possibilities are enormous (think Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, Bill Evans, etc.).

Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson has been a much admired player among musicians and European jazz fans for nearly four decades, but he has had far less visibility with American audiences. The Monday night performance of his trio at the Jazz Bakery -- unfortunately only a one-nighter -- revealed how much we've been missing. Stenson's trio included bassist Anders Jormin, a significant artist in his own right, and impressive young drummer Jon Falt. The spontaneous format flowing from this particular combination positioned Stenson and Jormin as a symbiotic duo, their music and imagination interlocking with stunning inventiveness. Falt, meanwhile, played a provocative Puck-like role, darting in and around the Stenson-Jormin team, sometimes supplementing, sometimes challenging, sometimes stimulating new directions.

The results were extraordinary. Opening the set, "Seli" (from Stenson's current ECM CD, "Goodbye") offered a provocative improvisational journey across a purring 6/4 meter. Other pieces sprang from sources as varied as Henry Purcell, Charles Ives and Tony Williams.

Stenson's piano playing occasionally revealed classical roots, sometimes recalled the harmonic textures of Bill Evans, at other times resonated with the open landscapes of Keith Jarrett's solo performances.

None of this, however, suggested imitation. If anything, Stenson's music seemed most powerfully affected by his Scandinavian roots, by a richly textured blend of meditative turmoil and inner voyaging comparable to the dramatic works of Ingmar Bergman.

Anders was remarkable throughout, and especially so on the Ives piece (title unannounced), in which his arco bow work produced feathery harmonic overtone phrases. Felt, in both his solos (especially on "Tonus") and accompaniment, displayed the too-rarely heard characteristics of a drummer who actually listens to, and interacts with, his musical companions.

One can only hope that this remarkable trio will soon return to the Southland for a more extended opportunity to experience their unique take on contemporary jazz.

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