This gig was the last of a seven-date UK tour by the Daniel Karlsson Trio at the end of a month-long European sojourn which didn’t, this time, include a London gig.
So that’s why I found myself on a Friday night in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter in a former badge factory, at a bar called the 1000 Trades (Birmingham, in the nineteenth century, being the 'city of a thousand trades' - essentially, it was the heart of heavy industry and crafts such as jewellery making).
A niche craft beer bar down below, upstairs is a lovely little room holding about 50 people maximum which has become a home for Birmingham’s jazz scene, being as it is the regular venue for gigs organised by Birmingham Jazz the volunteer cooperative which - like in so many towns and cities - is keeping jazz alive, and live.
Keyboardist Daniel Karlsson, ably backed by bassist Christian Spering and drummer Fredrik Rundkvist, played a two-hour set that entranced a small but really enthusiastic audience, judging by the rapt silence during each track and the intense look of concentration on everyone’s face.
This gig was part of Birmingham Jazz's Electric Dreams Festival. It offered low wattage, but high voltage evidence of why the nordic countries are leading the way in designing a verdant landscape for contemporary jazz music. Karlsson is also part of the band for former EST drummer Magnus Öström, which is where I first got to know his playing, and shares the former’s creativity and willingness to make the simple sound extremely complex and effortlessly beautiful.
Indeed, his latest album Fuse Number Eleven (so-named because said fuse in the recording studio caused a humming noise, and had to be removed during track recordings), is an example of how to do more with less. Many of the tracks played were from that album.
The set included King of Crap - a misnomer if ever there was one for such a sweet, languid toe-dip into moody, atmospheric waters; Metropolis, which has a simple, falling bass line from Spering which is as infectious as cholera, over which plucked piano chords chime out and slow arpeggios dominated; and Liberty, which is like a child’s fairy tale in which Spering’s bass is the hero. Also on show were some older tracks, such as the up-beat Correspondence with Folke Bengtsson, the title of which is a play on words of a Swedish lite beer.
On most of the songs, Karlsson plays like a painter, depositing thin layer after thin layer of notes and chords, each time picking up the slightest hint of a new colour from his palate, the full picture emerging over time into a kaleidoscope of intense musical colour. Some of the runs up and down the 88 keys prompted spontaneous applause, and deserved it.
What characterises their sound is the ensemble playing, and the almost logarithmic development of simple, almost repetitive chords or melodic ideas, bar-by-bar, into something truly hypnotic - it’s musical evolution in real time. Of course there’s soloing by all three players, but that never seems the point of doing it: each solo is more about each individual seeking to squeeze every last melodic drop out of thwhat’s available to them in Karlsson’s compositions, and building on what’s gone before.
All three players use pedals and effects to enhance their sound, in an unabashed and frequently dramatic way. Yes, all three. Drummer Rundkvist’s excellent drumming is best characterised as being defined what he doesn’t strike, swipe or tap as much, as what he does: it’s all about the rhythmic caesura. But at points, he put a microphone and stand on his snare, and whelped, hummed and clicked simple sounds which - when fed through an array of delays and effects - offered other worldly colour which added another dimension to the role of the drummer in modern jazz.
Spering too, through his use of effects and frequent bowing, is far away from the idea of a traditional bassist, but still highly effective in providing a low-end counterpoint to Karlsson’s soundscapes. Indeed, as a jazz piano trio, Daniel Karlsson’s band is far from the norm, and that’s the point - it’s where the action and excitement is. But they’re still obviously steeped in the fundamentals of European jazz.
The Daniel Karlsson Trio is big in Sweden, Germany and Italy, but still not in the sights of many UK jazz fans and promoters. Based on this gig, they're missing out on something special.