This album beings with a single, morse-code-style note. The hidden message: great music ahead - be prepared.
Now into their fourth album, the Daniel Karlsson Trio - Daniel Karlsson, keyboards; Christian Spering, double bass and cello; Fredrik Rundqvist, drums and percussion - demonstrates the playful insouciance and justified arrogance of a band that’s running as smoothly as a well-oiled engine.
Karlsson’s three earlier albums Das Taxibåt, Fusion for Fish and At the Feel Free Falafel contain some of my favourite keyboard jazz of the last decade - the keyboard riff 1:04 into Fusion for Fish on the album of the same name ranks as my favourite riff of the last five years - and each showcased Karlsson’s canny knack for combining the traditional piano trio sound with some playful fusion histrionics, unusual instruments (mellotron, anyone?) and hip-to-the-max hooks.
On “Ding Dong” - the parentheses are required - Karlsson’s slipped from fourth into fifth gear; the pace is overall a little slower, the playing a little simpler (but not simple), the editing and sound engineering still there, but a little less obvious. But that’s no bad thing; this is a band maturing, like a fine wine or, perhaps, a well-cured Swedish herring. Their music is changing and evolving. But each track is recognisably a Karlsson production.
The opener, Ding Dong, switches from artful simplicity into a groove-filled middle section, and has a number of movements. It showcases Karlsson’s production philosophy - take a simple sound to start with, then work and re-work it to build volume and shape - cut and paste, overdub, round the edges, add effects - to create something with edges, features, texture. In other words, expand what’s possible with a piano trio sound. The left hand piano motif is particularly propulsive.
Track two, Last Tesoro, is where bassist Spering takes centre stage, his effect pedal bringing his bass up front in the sound and challenging Karlsson’s piano for impact. Third cut Streetlight Shadows brings things back to the simple, a wafer-thin piano riff over some sampled string plucking on the open piano (I think!) and the lightest of bass and drum touches. Fourth track A Man and His Umbrella is the first track to get marketing exposure through this charming little video. The main keyboard melody is as light and frothy as a milkshake, yet breaks into something substantial as the chords change down in mood and all three band players stamp their mark on this track. Nothing overly complex here, but it draws you in, it attracts the ear and is consequently listenable in the extreme.
Passing Fury - at nine minutes, something of a rare excursion into the lengthy by Karlsson - has an early straight-up jazz-meets-Eno vibe, after which Karlsson - with a touch of echo on his sound - starts to build on the basic chord structure, moving the mood up and down, left and right, demonstrating simplicity and complexity on the same bill until, about three minutes it, the track grinds to a halt. Sampled gurgles and percussion chimes then provide an unusual backdrop for Karlsson’s simple main idea. Like the pealing of church bells, the melody is left to ring and call in the crowds to this super album.
Five words to sum it up? Riveting. Cool. Playful. Unconventional. Most of all, enjoyable.
Keep an eye out for a future ’10 questions with Daniel Karlsson’ on Kind of Jazz.