Bengt Berger’s cultural atlas is a fascinating one. He is a master of various idioms of music from European classical and contemporary, Afro-American Jazz, Indian (both Hindustani and Carnatic); and then there his mastery of various African forms. So he is just not a drummer – more like a musical polymath who also happens to be a brilliant instrumentalist. His influence is something that the musicians around him cannot resist although to my knowledge these Swedish musicians – Jonas Knutsson, Christian Spering and Max Schultz – are masters of more than one idiom, each in their own right. It shows in the music they play on Blue Blue.
Relationships come easy although the core trio has announced that after 19 years it is ‘acquiring’ its fourth member: guitarist Max Schultz, a rare honour for the guitarist indeed. Upon reflection – even after the first hearing, actually – it’s hard to imagine a finer album from a contemporary quartet. This is very fine instrumentalism. Christian Spering’s mastery of his bass can produce a particularly intense legato which the bassist exploits with great artistry. Jonas Knutsson is, to my mind, one of the greatest exponents of the saxophone. His breath-control is almost superhuman and he has the ability to play long, loping lines as if he were a mad gazelle crazy with the first spoor of rain. Bengt Berger is one of the finest percussion colourists in and outside Sweden. He writes as he plays – with frequent changes of mood and tempo and always sounds melodic. And now the guitarist Max Schultz brings a sweetness and intensity to the music of this itinerant trio.
What is so winning here is the flexibility of each musician’s playing that makes the music sound totally idiomatic. In addition the dynamic range of their playing is extreme, with hushed pianissimos making one catch the breath before the high contrast of chordal writing as at the very start, hits the ear hard and precise. Not only that, the dynamic shading of melody as in soaring Kim’s Corner is most beautiful and marks the definitive quartet sound, as it does also on the profoundly beautiful Tar Shenhai and on Motsols as well. The slow movement of Tar Shenhai becomes a haunting lullaby with a contrasting guitar interlude. Throughout, the music is light and beautifully sprung as any jazz melody.
Mr. Knutsson’s ability to switch from one saxophone to another is the stuff that legends are made of. He plays each one with sensitive phrasing, excellent intonation and dexterity that, almost all of the time, makes one forget that he is singing in another register. This remarkable ability is like having a singer who can switch from soprano to tenor , then alto to baritone seemingly with just an intake of the breath. Listen to his playing carefully throughout the album and you will hear what I mean. This is only the first of the quartet’s discs after the original trio had recorded 19 other albums together. It is worth holding one’s breath for the next disc and the ones after that as well. They can only be full of brilliant surprises.
Track List: Frankly; Beyond; My Sequence; Kim’s Corner; Old & New Blues; Tar Shenhai; Maximum; Babylon; Blue Blue; Motsols; La Rana Cansada; Max Gura.
Personnel: Bengt Berger: drums; Jonas Knutsson: saxophones; Christian Spering: bass, tar Shenhai and electronics; Max Schultz: electric, nylon, steel string guitars and mandolin.
About Berger, Knutsson, Spering & Schultz
In 1996 Bengt Berger, drums Jonas Knutsson, saxes and Christian Spering, double bass formed a trio, having played together in various Swedish constellations. We are still at it. Since the start we have played all over Sweden and in Denmark, Finland, Belgium, France and Morocco. Read more…