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Per Henrik Wallin Trio - The Stockholm Tapes

Charles Walker, Sudden Thoughts

It's not the first time I've had the sensation, listening to music: branches unfurling, doubling back, and crossing continents without the slightest knowledge of one another. How else to explain the shock that arrives two-thirds of the way through "E.V.," the first piece included here? In the midst of a highly-capable, if unremarkable bout of lyrical free jazz, pianist Per Henrik Wallin erupts out of the middle of this trio with a muscular, overflowing stream of two-handed, blues-inflected phrases, the genre's conventions opening like oyster shells to reveal a sweet and so low down pearl.

The effect is almost identical to the one unleashed by pianist Don Pullen on a host of American "new music" dates of the era: and yet, little known beyond each of their respective borders, there is little to no chance that any direct similarity was intended by either one. Still, for those familiar with and enamored by Pullen's contributions (can you have one without the other?), a listen to these Stockholm Tapes - released three long decades after their recording - is bound to induce a sense of sudden recognition, a quick acknowledgement of the virtuosic capabilities of Wallin. To say nothing of inspiring the question - why is he still almost entirely unknown outside of Sweden?

Thanks in large part to the efforts of Ayler Records, those beyond Scandinavian borders are slowly learning about the remarkable cross-pollination that was taking place in Stockholm throughout the 70's and early 80's - Swedish jazz does not start with Mats Gustaffson and his associates. Lesson learned, but most of the sessions so far released have been of a type: the relentless, high-energy free jazz which has remained the most prevalent influence on most of its modern-day descendents. The Stockholm Sessions is truly important for showing us a musician who sits within this world, but who moves quickly beyond it as well, riding along the force of a unique, confident voice. Don't get me wrong: by and large, this set will appeal mightily to those who enjoyed the long, winding explorations on albums by Anders Gahnold or the more recent …And William Danced. But there is a under-the-soil authenticity to Wallin's contributions here that set it apart from the pack; the commanding clamor of a piano voice which has taken on the surge and stomp of its surrounding milieu, but sluiced entire alternate tributaries into its main stream. In fact, it goes so far as to remind us that sometimes we can be lazy listeners - if early on, we are content with a perfectly run-of-the-mill session of the era, Wallin's torrent of cascading blues phrases, full-bodied block chords and mounting rhythmic intensity remind us that in the glut of sessions where simple effort sometimes seems enough, we must always remember to demand more from musicians who should be doing the same from us.

I don't want to insist too hard on the comparison with Pullen; certainly, it is going too far to say that their styles sound all that identical. However, there is a definite affinity in the affect it has on the listener; both in the octopus nature of his improvisations (sitting firmly within the music that surrounds him, but with tentacles trapping a whole host of other influences), and in the fact that when he enters, rich cadences ringing, Ulander and Olsen simply seem to play better. The first two tracks here (of four) are of primary interest: the recording quality is better, a deeper sonic bed more able to reflect the deep-rooted nuances of Wallin's playing. "E.V." is a tour de force, expanding and contracting across 23 minutes by the tumbling, cascading rush of the pianist's contributions; "Wuppertal" gets through six of its twelve minutes before he enters, but is worth every penny thereafter. One is a thundering whirlwind of shaky, unorthodox blues choruses, shot through with yearning, romantic asides; the other is a more-measured exercise in hide and go seek, Wallin and Ulander injecting and echoing long series of trills, tiny lyric permutations, and scurrilous chase sequences. The other two tracks, taken from a concert two years prior, have a thinner sound, and are much more typical high-energy fare. There is enjoyable music throughout - Ulander has a sharp tone which he uses to construct scrambling, when-bop-goes-bad lines; Olsen has a good sense of dynamics, and gets particularly interesting the quicker the tempo gets. And while they both do a capable job of running along in Wallin's wake, neither one has the range, inventiveness and ability to surprise as does the leader. But there is nothing really so wrong with this arrangement - much better that Wallin steals the show than that he sits back nonchalantly in the ensemble hiding his considerable gifts.