Paris Transatlantic review by Clifford Allen

Sten Sandell / Mattias Stahl – GRANN MUSIK (NEIGHBOUR MUSIC) (CF 109)
Swedish pianist Sten Sandell, in addition to his own trio, has become known through working in Mats Gustafsson’s electro-acoustic ensemble Gush. Classically trained and with an arsenal of extended techniques (in addition to preparation and electronics, Sandell uses his voice), he’s able to coax a huge array of sounds from his instrument, though often his choice of co-conspirators can make for an overly deliberate approach to “free” music. Mallet percussionist Mattias Ståhl, on the other hand, has explored the musical language of Ornette, Carla Bley and Jan Johansson in his freebop quartet Ståls Blå. The result of this linguistic pairing—cascading, bop-inflected runs and extended architecture—is somewhere between the sparser forays of Les Percussions de Strasbourg and the fluid poise of the Khan Jamal-Bill Lewis duets (The River, Philly Jazz 2, 1977).
The tension between severity and playfulness is apparent from the get-go, on “Lundburgs”, where Ståhl flits about in the vibraphone’s upper register as Sandell roils in the lower depths of his instrument, his sustained blocks of sound like bricks underneath the glassy rolls and filigree. The pair initially seem to be hurling their bags at one another in a wary gesture before a communicative dance is reached. Cascades of piano and marimba pelt alongside Sandell’s right hand to close the piece in a delicate upward arc. Ståhl marks time and space in the marimba’s middle registers on “Gröndals Deli”, though the pianist makes jagged and deep inroads at the outset, before lightening his touch and letting the music spread out a bit. The improvisations are all rather short (the longest just over seven minutes and most around five), and it’s illuminating to hear how, over the course of a few minutes, Sandell and Ståhl are able to reconcile their approaches into a music balanced between organic, circular rondos and slinky, charcoaled lines.

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