The Swedish octet STHLM Svaga was founded in 2017 as a conceptual, post-bop outfit focusing on the revolutionary jazz of the sixties but with a twist of its own, – an almost silent investigation into the low dynamics of playing modern jazz and free jazz. A year later, STHLM Svaga commissioned American composer-pianist Carla Bley to compose the piece «Bells and Whistles» and in July 2019 this piece was recorded for the octet debut album, embraced by two short compositions by STHLM Svaga musicians – «Tålamod» by sax player Johan Jutterström and the homage «Triple Tropical Bull (For Carla Bley)» by pianist by Rasmus Borg.
Bass player Steve Swallow, Bley’s partner, who wrote the liner notes, mentions a very loud and colossal noisy performance of the Cream – Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, at The Filmore in San Francisco in 1968 that shaped both musicians perception of music. «What we recall most vividly is the shocking shift in scale music at such volume generated, and the recalibration of our senses that shift provoked». Bley and Swallow remembered that performance when they listened for the first time to STHLM Svaga and appreciated what this octet introduces to the jazz language. «The psychological effect of STHLM Svaga’s music is a delight: first there’s disorientation, but then there’s reorientation, as you hear that there is, paradoxically, great power in reticence. This is something martial arts masters have long known, and musicians of various sorts, from Morton Feldman to Joao Gilberto, have known about it too».
And Swallow is totally right. As he concludes, «a well-placed note speaks volume», and STHLM Svaga does know how to tempt the attentive listener into its rich and powerful universe. The thoughtful «Tålamod» serves as an introduction to the center-piece «Bells and Whistles», which is comprised of soft, sensual and simple gestures of vocalist Linda Oláh, trumpeter Niklas Barnö, alto sax player Gustav Rådström, Jutterström, Borg, double bass player Elsa Bergman, and drummer Andreas Hiroui Larsson. Gently, the melodic and playful themes, tricks and twists of this composition dance, court and spark each other, with great focus and emotional depth. There’s no way to resist the magical power of this subtle, wise composition. The song-like «Triple Tropical Bull (For Carla Bley)» is a beautiful conclusion of this rare, provocative musical trip.
Linda Oláh (v), Niklas Barnö (tp), Gustav Rådström (as), Johan Jutterström (ts), Rasmus Borg (p), Elsa Bergman (b), Andreas Hiroui Larsson (dr)