To Swedish musicians playing contemporary music Stefan Bellnäs is one of the most sought after bassists which would probably explain why those of us who knew virtually nothing about him had to wait until November 2018 to listen to him in his own musical voice. Podunk is the result. It is – if one is to decode what Mr Bellnäs himself has to say about the record – something of an “anti-record”. It is about everything and nothing all of which is stated in music. “Sung” might be a more appropriate word because even in a prosaic world, it is poetry to the ear.
However, it may seem a bit unfair to describe it as “everything and nothing” when in fact it is like a kind of musical railway connection that seems to have been inserted into the vast continuum of music somewhere in the middle of the contemporary era, stretching up to the sounds we might hear, not simply today, but in the moment. Even that description seems to give the impression of overcooking when (again) in fact the whole project is a masterpiece of subtlety. Mr Bellnäs’ take on the lineage of both the hot and the cool – from Swedish folk to The Blues, through reggae, swing and bebop – is utterly unconventional, seeing him – surprise – playing every kind of guitar and keyboards with just as much hyper virtuosity as he does the instrument he is best known for: i.e., the bass. From each of the guitars he summons horn-like tones that often float benignly over the music of the rest of the ensemble which combines brass, woodwinds, keyboards and percussion.
Each of the instruments is superbly woven into the music to create an entirely unpredictable harmonic foundation. Magically too, the percussion addresses the needs of the music in a wonderful manner that keeps the tempo flowing in a loosely free-flowing manner, dancing (especially on “Requiem for a Genetically Defect Wolf”) around Mr Bellnäs’ bass like a double-helix, the pulsations occasionally by Staffan Svensson’s trumpet. There are other surprises too and they come quite effectively but discreetly whether in the interludes or in the “main” songs themselves: a gamelan-like riff is played as pizzicato harmonics by Mr Bellnäs – often on what sounds like a lap-steel guitar; elsewhere a delicate curlicue of a bass line underpins what sounds like a Gaelic lament, and a close knit ensemble passage develops from a single phrase. And when he does play solo as in “Whims of Chambers” his rippling turn on contrabass in tribute to Paul Chambers is simply breathtaking. The recorded sound balances detail and warmth on this utterly memorable debut recording that was a long time in coming.
Track list – 1: Hi Ho Silver; 2: Big Chief; 3: Jonah and the Whale; 4: Hollow Oak; 5: Archana Profana; 6: Searching for the Lost Spice Rack; 7: Requiem for a Genetically Defect Wolf – part one; 8: An Exercise in Quantum Gravity; 9: Successful Freezing of Mr Juju; 10: The Black Lagoon; 11: Requiem for a Genetically Defect Wolf – part two; 12: Until My Days are Over; 13: Spokes; 14: Isabella 98; 15: Thirteen Bars in Hell; 16: Blue; 17: Whims of Chambers; 18: The Intern
Personnel – Johan Kylén: drums (4, 5, 9, 14), counter alto clarinet, saxophone and voice (intro and interludes); Shree Sundarkumar: kanjira (3, 10, 12, 16); Anders Kjellberg: drums (2, 6, 13); Lisen Rylander-Löve: tenor saxophone (2, 6, 13); Staffan Svensson: trumpet (2, 6, 13); Johan Håkansson: drums (16, 17), bongos and vibraphone (10); Acka Matérn: accordion: (10, 12, 18) Stefan Bellnäs: all guitars, basses and keyboards
Released – 2018
Label – Country & Eastern (CE40)
Runtime – 53:01