To paraphrase the great greek fable writer Aesop, when it comes to assessing the quality of jazz music you rarely go wrong by relying on the maxim: "Judge a man by the company he keeps.”
Swedish flautist Magnus Lindgren is a new artist to me but I was drawn to this album by the quality of players he’s surrounded himself with. In particular, two of my favourite European artists: Germany’s Till Brönner on trumpet and Sweden’s top keyboardist, Daniel Karlsson, on the Fender Rhodes piano.
Add in Lars Danielsson on electric bass, Henrik Jansson on guitar and Per Lindvall on drums, along with a number of guest artists, and you’ve got the basis of a great band. Give them some classic tunes by a legendary flautist to get inspired by, and you’ve got a potentially very cool album.
Stockholm Underground is a paean to flautist Herbie Mann (1930-2003), who’s soul-jazz groove on his 1969 album Memphis Underground is given a full retrospective update by Lindgren and co. Rolling Stone magazine dubbed it one of the '100 Best Jazz Albums' of all time.
This album kicks off not in Stockholm, but in the New York of the ‘seventies, with the foxiest of grooves and breathiest of flute intros on Fluting having a strong lower East Side vibe, over which Brönner provides a sassy trumpet solo, after which Lindgren shows why he’s “probably the best jazz flautist in Europe” (according to his label).
Second track Penny Blue feels like a trip down Sesame Street, all light and breezy tones and uplifting, speak-easy flute lines. One can almost picture Elmo or The Count snapping their fingers to this delightfully simple, joyous song.
Things get decidedly soulful and introspective on Winter Wisdom, the fourth cut, where Lindgren’s capacity to blow the most sinewy of flute melodies is demonstrated to good effect. However, the slow pace of the track makes it a little laboursome. Similarly, the cover of Procul Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale is perfectly passable but does little to stand out (although this may be because I’m not a fan of the original!).
The album is strongest when it gets back to solid, bulk-shipped grooves on a track like Message from Kaknas, which combines disco freedom with strong unison playing between Lindgren and Brônner on the main theme, which resolves into some great soloing from both. Theme from Laura puts a break on the groove with the slowest of rhythms, excellent Fender chops from Daniel Karlsson and charming acoustic guitar work by Janson.
Lots of soul, lots of groove. A simple recipe but one which on the whole works across this album, as Janson, Danielsson and Lindvall - the original rhythm section of the famous Nils Lindgren’s Funk Unit from the nineties Scandinavian jazz and funk scene - provide a strong foundation to which Lindgren, Karlsson and Brönner add an updated superstructure.
A whole album of flute jazz may test some listeners’ stamina. However, there’s a lot of fun, well-structured and refreshingly upbeat music on this album to provide a fitting tribute to a great jazz musician.