Sean Nowell: Stockholm Swingin' (2011)
Tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell's third CD is an engaging set of music that was recorded live at the Glen Miller Café in Stockholm at the end of a fourteen-day tour through Sweden. Nowell's band mate in Travis Sullivan's Björkestra, drummer Joe Abba, and a solid crew of Swedish musicians help to flesh out this riveting set of music which, as the title implies, is built on, but not limited to, swinging selections.
The program starts off with a triple shot of swing, but each number differs in slight ways. The loping, swaggering swing of McCoy Tyner's "Blues On The Corner" opens the set and, as good as it is, it almost seems like a warmup when compared to "Ack Värmeland, Du Sköna," which follows it. Bassist Lars Ekman launches this song with a hip riff, and Nowell's soloing is energetic and ecstatic. The third number in this triptych, "Harlem Woman," is driven by Abba's firm swing and Ekman's sturdy bass lines, but the soloists really own this one. Duke Ellington's "Amad," from his Far East Suite (RCA, 1967), finally takes the band in a different rhythmic direction, with its Middle Eastern flavor and exotic sound, and a second helping of Ellingtonia, in the form of Billy Strayhorn's "Chelsea Bridge," features some of Nowell's most sublime work of the set.
While the combination of old world swing stylings, modern jazz, and reworked classics is a formula that's used time and again on jazz recordings, this set stands out because of the musical chemistry of this group and the way they shape a song. Abba does a fantastic job crafting dynamic/dramatic rhythmic arcs within a piece ("Walking The Path"), and Nowell, whether attached at the hip to guitarist Fredrik Olsson or setting a song ablaze with his saxophone, leads with class and authority. Pianist Leo Lindberg is often the "Yang" to Nowell's "Yin," providing chordal responses to the saxophonist's statements ("Amad") and countering his modern-leaning solos with a bluesy approach, and Ekman rounds out the group, providing solid, yet flexible bass work that bolsters the band from below.
While Nowell's first two albums were first-class musical outings, Stockholm Swingin' is simply his best thus far. The third time really is a charm.
Track Listing: Blues On The Corner; Ack Värmeland, Du Sköna; Harlem Woman; Amad; NY Vibe; Chelsea Bridge; Sweet Night; Walking The Path.
Personnel: Sean Nowell: tenor saxophone; Fredrik Olsson: guitar; Leo Lindberg: piano; Lars Ekman: bass; Joe Abba: drums.