Bengt Nordström - The Environmental Control Office

Julian Cowley, The Wire

Swedish jazz outsider Bengt Frippe Nordström died in 2000. He had taken up the clarinet after hearing Tony Scott, and tenor saxophone after hearing Sonny Rollins. Then exposure to the music of Ornette Coleman and especially Albert Ayler lured him towards less regulated spontaneity and the isolation of solo concerts and small edition, self-released records.
Occasionally, venturesome and supportive figures such as Don Cherry would join him in duets. In mid-1970s, Nordström found he was able to convene a group, the Environmental Control Office, and at last he had a sustaining context.

By the time of this recording at Jazz Club Fasching, Stockholm in June 1988 the line-up featured bassist Björn Alke, who also died in 2000, drummer Peeter Uuskyla and violinist Lars Svanteson.
It was the last time the quartet met.

The first disc features a sprawling 50-minute improvisation that speaks of Ayler's influence from the opening burst of weighty vibrato. It's a curious kind of freedom that is so circumscribed by homage, and Nordström rareley matches Ayler's raw force. Still, beyond the mannered copying of earthy honks and righteous tremors, he also touches on Ayler's spirit. He has real feeling for the richness of his instrument's sound and an aptitude for piecing together fragments into open-ended solos, packed with allusions to folk music and children's songs.

Svanteson makes a lively foil to the tenor's bulk. His presence may suggest a parallel to Ayler's inclusion of violinist Michael Samson in his ensemble sound. This quartet is more inclined to dip into mainstream methods and techniques to sustain the momentum.

That tendency is given its head on the second disc, which opens with a version of Tony Scott's "Swinging In Sweden". Nordström transfers his vigour to the clarinet and allows small eccentricities to creep into his orbit around the theme.

On "Fripping", he pushes the instrument further out, goaded by Svanteson's brisk and inventive obliqueness and Alke's responsive bowing. Uuskyla at this point sounds too comfortable marking time, reining in a little too effectively.

For the concluding "Fasching", Nordström's return to tenor and Ayler's ghost stalks once more through the music.

Overall, a welcome opportunity to hear an overlooked musician playing with commitment and power, but a few more risks collectively taken would have intensified his impact.