Bobo Stenson: Faithful Yet Expansive
Following Christensen's departure, the trio did a North American tour with Billy Hart before settling in with Paul Motian, who remained part of the touring trio until health problems caused him to stop touring last year. While both Christensen and Motian are colorists, textural players who often suggest more than they overtly state, Motian is both a softer and more direct player. "Paul is, of course, a drummer who really comes from the tradition," Stenson says, "he played with Bill Evans, he has a history. So he's more into the tradition, and he's American, so there are definitely differences. So when we play a tune with more defined time, like Ornette Coleman's 'Race Face,' he plays in a more straightforward way. Still, like Christensen, he doesn't have to do muchhe can do the smallest, most unexpected things."
Stenson's latest album, Goodbye (ECM, 2005), features Motian, although the trio now has a new drummer, Jon Falt, who is able to go on the road. "The 'new' Jon, he's a very open-minded young person," explains Stenson. "He is more into everythinghe's young and wants to try out a lot of things, but he's also very loose and sets some interesting things when he wants to get really heavy."
Goodbye features a characteristically-diverse program, although Stenson only contributes one piecethe brief "Queer Street"to the set. Instead, in terms of original material, the emphasis is on Jorminwho also arranges a number of pieces by composers including Ariel Ramirez, Vladimir Vysotsky and Henry Purcellas well as a couple of tunes by Motian, big band composer/arranger Gordon Jenkins' title track, Tony Williams' "There Comes a Time" and a new look at Ornette Coleman's "Race Face." But perhaps the most surprising song on the album is the openerStephen Sondheim's "Send in the Clowns." While the song has been covered so many times as to become almost shtick, in the hands of Stenson, Jormin and Motian it becomes something more profounda lush, rubato tone poem that's sentimental without being syrupy; dramatic in an understated way without ever resorting to melodrama.
And yet, Stenson's attraction to the song is simple. "I had played it a long time ago with [the late Swedish] trombonist Eje Thelin," says Stenson, "a fine player. So it has been in my repertoire for a long time. I hadn't played it in a long time, and I suddenly picked it upwhy I don't knowand played it in the studio for the others. Paul really liked it, saying, 'let's play that!' So we did just one or two takesno real arrangement, just very open. Nothing special, we just played it because it's a nice melody. That happens a lotwe pick things from different areas. It doesn't matter so much where it comes from, I think, for us it's more important what we do with it. I'm not a big composer; I don't sit down every day and try to write something, as opposed to Anders, who's much more into that discipline."
The whole key to interpretationwhether the source is jazz, classical or anything elseis also straightforward in Stenson's mind. "You try to be true to the original, not mess it up too much," Stenson explains. "You want to be faithful, but then you try to take the vibe of the context of the piece, go on with it a little more, and take it a little further. Keep in the same kind of mood more or less, but expand upon it. We listen to a lot of different kinds of music; it's not a big thing for us that we do classical pieceswhatever it is just happens to be something we like at the time, so we do it."
It may surprise fans that when Stenson is at home, he rarely works on improvisation. "I practice classical music, that's always been my thing," Stenson explains. "So when I'm at home that's what I play. I don't play so much from the jazz repertoire. Of course sometimes you practice something you want to do, you look at a piece you might use, whatever. But I don't practice that kind of thing so muchI'd rather do other kinds of music. Maybe something I hear on the radio or read about, or go back to the classical library. Bach has always been important , it's almost meditation for me, it always means a lot. But I play all kinds of things, like Brahms and Beethoven. I remember meeting [pianist] Teddy Wilson in the 60s, a very nice man. At the time you'd not expect a black jazz musician to be so into the classical repertoire, but he started asking me, 'Do you play Mozart,' that kind of thinghe was really into it, I'll bet he was very good, too."
In addition to his own trio, Stenson has been involved in a project with Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen for the past couple of years. The first release of Strønen's quartet, called Parish, was released on the Dutch Challenge label in 2003 (Rica), with the group's second album, Parish (ECM) release in late 2005 in Europe and slated for March release in North America, and features bassist Mats Eilertsen and saxophonist/clarinetist Fredrik Ljungkvist.
He's also on a new album by the Swedish trio Plunge. "They invited me to work with them," Stenson says, "a trio with a baritone/soprano saxophonista very good playerand bass and drums. I had taught the saxophonist for a time, and so they invited me to do some things with them; we recorded, and it was just released. It's a very interesting recording, almost totally improvised, and recorded in a concert hall, so there's a nice live sound. Interesting music. I don't usually listen to my work much, but I find this quite interesting, almost classical."
The Bobo Stenson trio made a brief tour of the United States in November, 2005, and returns March 15-18, 2006 for a four-night run at New York City's Birdland with Paul Motian guesting.
Bobo Stenson, Goodbye (ECM, 2005)
Thomas Strønen, Parish (ECM, 2005)
Plunge, Plunge with Bobo Stenson (Kopasetic, 2005)
Bobo Stenson/Lennart Åberg, Bobo Stenson/Lennart Åberg (Amigo, 2003)
Rena Rama, Rena Rama (Caprice, 1973/1979, reissued 2003)
Bobo Stenson, :rarum: Selected Recordings Vol. 8 (ECM, 2002)
Bobo Stenson Trio, Serenity (ECM, 2000)
Bobo Stenson, Solo Piano (La Sensazione, 2000)
Bobo Stenson Trio, War Orphans (ECM, 1997)
Bobo Stenson Trio, Very Early (Dragon, 1987, reissued 1997)
Tomasz Stanko, Litania (ECM, 1997)
Tomasz Stanko, Leosia (ECM, 1997)
Charles Lloyd, Canto (ECM, 1997)
Rena Rama with Kenny Wheeler, The Lost Tapes (Amigo, 1997)
Bobo Stenson, Reflections (ECM, 1996)
Tomasz Stanko Quartet, Matka Joanna (ECM, 1995)
Charles Lloyd, All My Relations (ECM, 1995)
Don Cherry, Dona Nostra (ECM, 1994)
Charles Lloyd, The Call (ECM, 1993)
Charles Lloyd, Notes From Big Sur (ECM, 1992)
Charles Lloyd, Fish Out of Water (ECM, 1990)
Anders Jormin, Eight Pieces (Dragon, 1988)
Anders Jormin, Nordic Light (Dragon, 1984)
Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson Quartet, Dansere (ECM, 1976)
Jan Garbarek/Bobo Stenson Quartet, Witchi-Tai-To (ECM, 1974)
Bobo Stenson, Underwear (ECM, 1971)
Jan Garbarek, SART (ECM, 1971)
Terje Rypdal, Terje Rypdal (ECM, 1971)