Sten Sandell / Mattias Ståhl – Grann Musik (CF 109)
“Grann Musik” is a duo with similar virtues: spacious without being airy, racing without being overly chattery. Sandell is well known to readers, for his exuberant and highly idiosyncratic approach to Free improvisation—a dazzling technician who is also not so much in thrall to pianism as much as he’s after sound, with instrumentalism second. Stahl reminds me of Karl Berger somehow, not a Bop-derived master like Joe Locke or Bobby Hutcherson or even a new music maven who’s spent more time with Reich charts than improvising. He loves the timbre of his instruments first and foremost, and this is the warm heart of this duo, lighting up their fine counterpoint and serpentine lines. After covering the whole range of their instruments on the opener, the two trade woody jabs and low-end clusters on “Groandals Deli.” They move from there to the rich and complex “Olle Engkvist,” which opens with Stahl’s lovely, elliptical lyrical statement that seems to interpolate fragments of post-Bop tunes and Webern, before Sandell enters once more, tentatively climbing from the very depths of the keyboard. Things do occasionally get rousing and quite note-dense—as on “Albert och Herbert”—but there’s always a kind of avian quality to it, the whole somehow airborne. I hear this most clearly on “Vinterviken,” which sounds to me like Tony Williams’ first two records would if they were rendered more spacious and updated.
©Cadence Magazine 2008 www.cadencebuilding.com