For those of you who are new to Lars Danielsson, he is a classically trained Swedish bass and cello player, and one of the mainstays of the German ACT label. The warm, singing tone of his playing is quite distinctive, as are his compositions, which are informed by classical music and folk, as well as jazz. He first came to prominence with the Lars Danielsson Quartet, which also featured the former Miles Davis saxophonist David Liebman. More recently, his collaboration with the Polish pianist Leszek Moždžer has met with critical acclaim, with Pasadoble (2008) particularly noteworthy.
With Moždžer now focusing on a solo career, Lars Danielsson formed a new quartet featuring Armenian pianist Tigran, British guitarist John Parricelli (Loose Tubes) and Swedish drummer Magnus Öström (EST). Their debut recording, Liberetto, was recorded in 2011, and featured trumpet player Arve Henriksen. The new CD features most of the same personnel, but sounds more like a solo recording than a group effort. Pianist Tigran is less prominent this time, and only contributes two tunes, one of which is a co-composition. In fact, Danielsson himself plays piano on three of the tunes. The other significant change is that Mathias Eick guests on trumpet, his soft tone reminiscent of late period Chet Baker.
The melodies, as one has come to expect from Danielsson, are gorgeous. The new album opens with Grace, which is based on a simple trumpet motif by Eick. Danielsson plays piano, and is joined by the Argentine-English guitarist, Dominic Miller, who plays acoustic guitar. Tigran returns to play piano on Passacaglia, which sounds more classically-influenced. As the tune progresses, Öström’s driving brushwork brings out a stunning solo by the pianist, highlighting the wonderful chemistry amongst these musicians.
Miniature is one the album’s many highlights, Danielsson playing a quite beautiful piano melody. He plays bass and cello too, supported by some delicate playing by Öström, and subtle contributions by Parricelli on guitar. Mathias Eick returns on I Tima, which reminds me of the subtle interplay between Chet Baker, and his trio with Philip Catherine on guitar and Jean-Louis Rassinfosse on bass. The album closes with Beautiful Darkness, which features some electronic effects by Öström, often used to good effect in his work with the late, great Esbjörn Svensson, and a haunting vocal by Cæcilie Norby, who also produced the album.
Chamber jazz is a somewhat loaded phrase that can imply jazz that is too arranged, too clinical, for some tastes. Lars Danielsson helps to eliminate that prejudice through the warmth of his playing, the delicacy of his compositions, and by working with a superb cast of musicians that are sensitive to his ideas. Liberetto II is one of my favourite releases of the year. Highly recommended.