ACT: 20 Years of Magical Music
It would be safe to say that Wakenius has succeeded in his attempt to play from the heart. Compositions like "Innocence" and "Everything That Lives Laments" breathe with an organic sense of beauty coming from the wood and steel of Wakenius' guitar. He is complemented superbly by drummer Morten Lund and bassist Lars Danielsson, who also occasionally fills in on piano and cello. The chamber-like setting contributes to the intimacy of the record and engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug helps to sculpt a superior, warm sound where every detail is heard.
While the emphasis is on the ballads, the group also shows that it is capable of a solid groove and infectious swing. Thus, the tune "Dancing" does exactly what the title promises: it propels a funky rhythm where there's plenty of space for Wakenius' fluid and lightning-fast runs.
In spite of the occasional changes in pace, the overall impression of Notes from the Heart is that it is a record of contemplation. It is music that allows and invites deep listening.
Bassist Lars Danielsson, who plays on Notes from the Heart, is a frequent sideman on many ACT releases, but he is also a leader in his own right. On Tarantella he creates an enchanting mixture of classical music and jazz.
Polish pianist Leszek Mozdzer, who has a background in classical music, has previously shown that he is the perfect musical partner for Danielsson. On Pasodoble (ACT, 2007) the two created an intimate sound world and Mozdzer returns again to enhance the poetry of Danielsson's compositions with his sensitive touch.
"Traveller's Wife" sees Danielsson playing a solo cello piece worthy of Bach's cello suites with nuanced and somber notes. Here, Danielsson shows himself as an entire orchestra, capable of playing on all shades of his instrument. "Traveller's Wife" gives way to its cousin "Traveller's Defense" where the band with Mozdzer, drummer Eric Harland and trumpeter Mathias Eick creates a romantic meditation where Eick's breezy playing adds significantly to the atmosphere.
Besides Eick, John Parricelli is also an important voice on the album. His gentle guitar playing graces compositions like "Pegasus" and "Across the Sun" and it adds to the complex and luxurious textures of the album. Classical in its sound and still unequivocally jazzy, Tarantella is the perfect combination of two musical worlds.
Leszek Mozdzer's first solo piano recording on ACT is a tribute to fellow pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda and it is simply titled Komeda. It has sometimes been said of Komeda that he was an inferior pianist and a superior composer. In terms of technicality, Komeda wasn't so much concerned with virtuosity as he was with atmosphere. He deliberately used the space between the notes to create tension in his compositions and shun the dramatic effects of his instrument.
While Mozdzer and Komeda share a love for the Polish composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin, they are still very different in their approach to the piano. Like another classical pianist, Franz Liszt, Mozdzer isn't afraid of delving into pyrotechnics and showing the full range of his command of the instrument, but, thankfully, he has also learnt from Komeda's poetics of restraint, and this shines through in his original interpretations of "Ballad for Bernt" and "Cherry."
A composition where Mozdzer's virtuosity really serves Komeda's music is in his stunning exploration of the epic "Nighttime, Daytime Requiem." This Janus-faced composition with its wealth of dark and light shades really comes to life through Mozdzer's orchestral approach, where tempo, tone and color are varied to perfection.
It's Snowing on My Piano
Whereas many listeners will get their first encounter with Komeda on Mozdzer's album, the material on pianist Bugge Wesseltoft's It's Snowing on My Piano is probably already familiar to many. As the title suggests, it's a Christmas album where Wesseltoft revisits many classics of the season and does so with decided success.
There's an innocent air about Wesseltoft's approach to the material. A childish sense of discovery which strips away the layers of cynical commercialism that sometime seems to spoil the beauty of these tunes.
Wesseltoft revisits and rediscovers the fragile joy and poetry of tunes like "What Child Is This (Greensleeves)" and "Little Town of Bethlehem." His playing is at once naïve and sophisticated, with a touch that reveals an emotional complexity where sadness is allowed a space to breathe in the middle of the mild peace of the music.