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Anders Gahnold Trio - Flowers for Johnny

Michael Rosenstein, One Final Note

Last year's William Parker release …and William Danced on the Ayler label made a number of year-end lists and introduced many listeners to the Swedish alto player Anders Gahnold. The liner notes raved about a trio that Gahnold had led in the 1980s with South African musicians Johnny Dyani and Gilbert Matthews, but it seemed unlikely that recordings would ever get released. This 2-CD release, which captures a 1983 concert at the Umeå Jazz Festival and an '85 concert from Stockholm, confirms that this trio was more than mere legend.

Contained within are two charged sets built from straightforward extensions of post bop toward freedom. Gahnold provides the tunes (with the exception of "Summertime" from the later session), laying out the simple song-like themes and then using them as the basis for melodic expansion. The leader's playing adds a tension to the music. The raw edge to his tone and loose sense of phrasing treads right on the edge of explosive abandon, but he always stays rooted in a free-bop swing. Of course the "Johnny" in the title is bassist Dyani, and in many ways he provides the central focus of the music. Dyani had, by this time, synthesized his kwela roots with the energy of free jazz, and the music here hearkens to the music he was making with another Scandinavian alto player, Frode Gjerstad, and drummer John Stevens in their trio Detail. The bassist had a way of bringing a sense of driving melody to even the freest music and these two sets catch him in top form. His tone is captured serviceably in the somewhat ragged recording quality, allowing his resonant power to shine through even the most turbulent sections. Drummer Matthews, who had played with both Dyani and Abdullah Ibrahim at the time, provides a simmering propulsion to the music. He darts around his kit with a lightening touch, sparking the trio along with slashing cymbals and an open bass drum pulse.

The earlier set from Umeå opens with a storming "Sound Check" that encapsulates their approach: start off with a riff, then dig in and launch off into an extended volatile improvisation. Gahnold's solos commence with the fluid, linear development of bop and build with fiery intensity. Dyani and Matthews kick things along with a propulsive, elastic pulse rooted in the melodic themes. (Listening to these sets, it's no surprise that Gahnold fit in so well with William Parker and Hamid Drake on …and William Danced.) This session is a bit rawer than the Stockholm one, and the tunes build off of blues vamps ("Gilbert's Blues"), free-flowing ballads ("Waltz for Kai-Ola"), or dancing polyrhythms ("Groove for Willy", which opens with the roiling thunder of Matthews drum solo and charges off from there).

The later set is a bit abbreviated, with only three tunes over the course of 33 minutes. Here, the group interplay is a bit tighter, and Gahnold sounds more self-assured as he lets his lines dart and weave across the tumbling pulse. This stands out in particular on their reading of "Summertime". Dyani's soulful statement of the theme leads things off and then Matthews and Gahnold join in, riding out the tune in a relaxed groove imbued with a confident swagger. The set is rounded out by "Jagad", with its ragged Bird-like theme and the closing "Duett", a trio outing that zips along the bouncing shuffle with accelerating zeal. Though this certainly doesn't have the historic importance of the Albert Ayler or Jimmy Lyons releases that producer Jan Ström has put out, it is good to hear more from Gahnold, and any posthumous addition to Dyani's discography is always welcome.