Daniel Karlsson has been a busy musical bee in the last five years. From his first album Das Taxibåt to this newly released fifth album - appropriately named 5 - Daniel Karlsson has produced an album a year. But he has not sacrificed quantity for quality; crucially, each album has been strong, often with two or three outstanding tracks, and 5 is no exception.
The Daniel Karlsson Trio is one of European jazz’s hidden gems. Keyboardist Karlsson, bassist Christian Spering and drummer Fredrik Rundqvist are rightly lauded in their home market (they have won one Gramis (Swedish Grammy) and been nominated for their fourth album) but still sit below the radar in the UK. Number 5 adds another thump to the drumbeat making the case for them to receive wider acclaim.
Why do I say this? Is the Daniel Karlsson Trio on a Miles Davis-like creative mission, shattering jazz convention? No. Are they forging new alliances between jazz and the world of hip-hop or grime, say? Again, no.
I say it because the Trio has, well, something. They have a capacity to produce albums and tracks which, in most cases, just work and appeal to the ear and the soul. In the same way that you don’t wonder why a flower is beautiful or a bird-song attractive. You just understand they are. So, the band is not aiming to be musical iconoclasts, but has a more modest goal of producing well-wrought, beautifully composed tunes that, at times, surprise but more often, subdue and soothe.
Karlsson has mastery of his instrument, so he has a lot of options open. But virtuosity is not the quality which makes this a strong album. He is like an honest craftsman, a builder of musical boats: in the luscious arrangements and the effective harmonic choices, he is builds musical vessels designed to float on the stormiest of jazz seas or the flattest of musical lakes, but to do so effortlessly. In Spering and Rundqvist, he has on board two of the ablest seamen.
His studio is on the small Swedish island of Runmarö, the ‘artist’s island’ surrounded by the Baltic sea that has provided a calm oasis for forebears such as Strindberg and Forsell. There is a salty-cleanliness to much of Karlsson’s writing which, like a morning sailing the headlands of the archipelago, has the power to cleanse and revive the soul. That’s the ‘something’ at the heart of 5; it is a tremendously vivifying collection of tunes.
Opener Dubious Whisper is a shuffling track which has a morning feel, like a long spring walk along the dunes with the sand blown around and the deep blue see beckoning you. You want to proceed.
Second cut Let Me Tell You One More Thing takes musical economy to the limit. Spering and Rundkvist start with kindergarten-simple rhythms, over which Karlsson picks out sparse notes and ringing chords with the intensity of a grandmother picking out fresh fish at the market. At its heart linger pensive minor chords which nod to the cliché of Nordic melancholy, yet leave one strangely uplifted.
Salzburg contains no waltz rhythms, but tumbles along with charming rolling arpeggios over which Spering picks out a simple motif with a little distortion, sounding like a seal pup whining for its mother.
Days Lost and Gone opens with a lovely descending chord pattern that laps the ears like waves on a boat's prow heading towards a harmonic island that’s deserted, but with a melancholy secret. Both Spering and Rundkvist propel the song along with rhythms and interjections that are barely noticeable but operate with the efficiency of any good sailing crew, knowing when to tack, when to wind in and when to let out more musical rope.
Fifth track, the bizarrely named In the Tambourine Forge, contains precisely zero tambourines, forged or otherwise. Spering’s bowed bass however does have a droning, industrial quality as Rundqvist and Karlsson tap away on the anvil to mould the notes rather before plunging the track into a bucket of cold water, transforming it into a more dynamic piece with a steel-like centre, that grows in complexity as the material is worked, re-worked, folded, heated and left to cool.
The best track is Meet the Moiners. No, I don’t know who or what the Moiners are, but I do want to meet them after hearing this gloriously swinging track. It has an opening string motif that hits the spot, creating a splash into which Karlsson’s piano jumps right in. It’s not complicated or particularly challenging; this ain’t Bitches Brew. But, it’s thoughtful, moving and makes you want to explore - like finding a mysterious map on the pavement, you want to see where it leads. Where it does so is to is a left-field middle section, all tough drums and mournful bass that suggests a squall is breaking and the seagulls are getting nervous. It’s tempestuous, the perfect contrast to what has gone before.
This album is strong but it’s not critic bait. You won’t find a collaboration with Stormzy or African polyrhythms on it. If you want hipness, go to Shoreditch.
No, this is an album for the listener, for those who want to lie back and luxuriate in great, well constructed music. Looking for music to brighten your day but also energise you with the power of an ocean storm? Number 5 could be what you need.