Fredrik Norén: Sweden Bahia Connection (2006)
"Bahia," in my world, is a word associated with a religious faith of vague doctrine whose dedicatees maintain a disconcerting degree of secrecy in my home town. Imagining Swedes of this persuasion doing an album of Brazilian songs makes for a twisted mental picture.
Thank Godwhoever that is in your worldfor Google.
The search engine's first result points to a site featuring music from the city of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. It notes that "while Rio, or its fame anyway, tends toward the elegant and sophisticated end of the spectrum, Bahia tends toward the other. Bahia is the land of the drum."
OK, so religion isn't necessarily involved here, but that was a moment of enlightenment about drummer Fredrik Norén's Sweden Bahia Connection (both the album and band name). He calls it "a tribute to my wife Helena, her family and all my Brazilian friends." The nine original songs feature themes such as "the Afro-Brazilians journey over the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to Brazil," "the Young Indians who live in the Amazon jungle where they are forced to move in order to survive," and an "illustration of the street noise" in a Bahia city.
There's not as much distinct drum work as one might expect, given the album's leader and theme; Norén is more a technician than showman. One highlight is a lively battle with Anderson Sousa's congas and percussion on "Helena's Song," a composition that sounds like a derivative of "Footprints." The album also ends strongly with Norén's subtle rumblings communicating almost perfectly with trumpeter Joatan Nascimento's lengthy exploratory lyricism on "The Holly Trees," followed by the closing "Rua Directa," where everyone finally takes a no-holds-barred approach in coloring the freest canvas here.
But there aren't enough such moments to elevate this hour-long album into the special category. The opening "Baianino" is high in speed but low in inspiration; Norén feeds listeners a steady dose of a modestly complex, trimbrally subtle beat, but it's too consistent and not unique enough to establish him as a lead voice. Nascimento and guitarist Jurandir Santana dominate with lines that are tasty on the surface, if not overly original, and the most notable percussion work is Sousa's conga solo.
Vocalist Ana Paula is strong and steady on the upbeat "Trihos Urbanos" and sedate "Dindi," and "Caruaru" shifts the mood competently from Latin to West Coast cool, but again nothing at a standout level.
There aren't any real misfires with Sweden Bahia Connection. It's consistently pleasant work by talented players, with a more authentic feel than many mainstream dabblings into Brazilian music. It offers listeners already familiar with Norén a chance to hear something different, but the rest might want to look through his extensive discographyhis biography notes he has played with "almost every Swedish jazz musician" and a lengthy list of American jazz legendsbefore starting with this one.
Track Listing: Baianino; Trihos Urbanos; Helena's Song; Dindi; Caruaru; Ijexa Da Paz; Na Estrada; The Holy Trees; Rua Direta.
Personnel: Joatan Nascimento: trumpet; Jurandir Santana: guitar; Ldson Galter: double bass; Anderson Sousa: congas/percussion; Fredrik Norén: drums; Ana Paula: vocals.
Record Label: Mirrors