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Lars-Göran Ulander Trio - Live at Glenn Miller Café

Derek Taylor, Bagatellen

Sedona, Arizona is home to a series of peculiar structures. To the layperson eye they are little more than cobbled together cairns slowly crumbling to dust. But to the local populace of crystal-wearing, chakra-obssessed mystics these stone piles are focal points, dots on a metaphysical map where spiritual energy pools in abundance and believers gain regular ingress to other states of consciousness. To the jazz fan the imperfect analogues are legendary clubs, venues where doyens stride the stage and make history as they build on the music night after night. The Village Vanguard, The Velvet Lounge, The Bimhaus, these are but a few. Thanks to the assiduous efforts of Ayler Records the Glenn Miller Café is earning a ranking among the number.

Jan Ström refers to the Café as the label's "number one 'studio'." That's no errant boast given that at least seven of the imprint's releases to date were birthed within its walls. I can't help pondering what the cafés supper club friendly namesake would have thought of much of the improv-centric music radiating from the stage. Whatever his possible opinion of the place, the incongruity often makes for some delightful irony; especially when ensembles like the Lars Göran Ulander Trio are the purveyors for an evening. In common with certain others on the Ayler roster including Anders Gahnold and Martin Küchen, Ulander represents relatively obscure surname to most non-European jazz listeners. His work on the Ayler-released Per Henrik Wallin compilation The Stockholm Tapes helped reverse the tide of American anonymity, but those recordings dated from the 70s. This recent one connotes his commercial debut as leader and presents a saxophonist still in possession of considerable creative skills.

Joining Ulander in the trio are two seemingly incongruous compatriots. My experience with Palle Danielsson is pretty much limited to his work on various ECM outings, mostly in the company of talented, but sometimes overly-sedate pianist Bobo Stenson. Paal Nilssen-Love frequently represents the other side of the coin, a powerhouse drummer comfortable in the company of Brötzmann and Gustafsson and one who a breaks a heavy beading sweat every time behind his kit. The two players meet beautifully in the middle between their respective poles, Danielssonn producing a full-bodied tensile thrum when it comes to pizzicato and Nilssen-Love favoring nuance as much as brawn in his myriad rhythms. Ulander trolls the lower regions of his alto, brushing the tenor range with a tone furrowed by emotive veracity.

"Tabula Raasa G.M.C.," first of three lengthy collective improvisations, finds the three reaching a flexible consensus that sustains for nearly the entire set. The Mingusian anthem "What Love" serves as a fitting median piece. The leader engages Danielsson in a dialogue worthy of the source incarnations, mixing dialects of Dolphy and McLean in a continuation of a conference initiated on the earlier, enigmatically-titled "Intrinsic Structure I." Sprawling in scope, "Ionizacion- Variaciones E.V." borrows kernels from Varese's epochal percussion ensemble piece and injects slivers of jazz time. All three tracks feature propulsion-packed, texture-stacked solos by Nilssen-Love. Ulander's own "J.C. Drops" closes the concert and he shows an even stronger abiding influence of Art Pepper in his velocious, often piercing lines.

Add Ulander's name to those of others like James Finn, Bill Gagliardi and Stephen Gauci, saxophonists of the far-better-late-than-never fraternity who are finally receiving some measure of their due. And thanks to the Glenn Miller Café, a venue slowly accruing legendary status, for help making it happen.