Nils Landgren/Jan Lundgren: Kristallen

Kristallen

Trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren and pianist Jan Lundgren unite for an intimate and, as its title implies, multi-faceted program. The single-vowel difference in their surnames feels appropriate, as their set list is comprised of two distinct yet compatible decks of cards shuffled into each other. One of those decks is instrumental, the other vocal. Of the former persuasion, Lundgren’s “Blekinge” introduces a windswept pastoralism. A canvas brushed and primed for itinerant melodies, it uses the listener’s attention as a palette from which to draw its colors. Amid a smattering of Swedish folksongs, including “Byssan Lull” and “Värmlandsvisan” (both reworked into delicate grooves), they plant the evergreens of “Norwegian Wood” and Keith Jarrett’s “Country.” Standing tallest among these, however, is Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding,” whose foliage glows with tender nostalgia before the snow sets in.

On the sung side of things, we’re treated to a bluesy take on another Beatles classic, “I Will,” wherein the duo gives us plenty of atmosphere to chew on. Standards “Didn’t We” and “The Nearness Of You” rub shoulders of equal height with Lundgren’s own “Why Did You Let Me Go” and “Lovers Parade.” The latter unfold with especial clarity, wintry and sincere. Landgren’s singing is every bit as brassy as his trombone is throated and lyrical: each informs the other.

Whichever lens through which we choose to view this album, we can be sure that these carefully chosen selections, cropped until their borders achieve a balance of definition and open-endedness, reveal a deeply personal sensibility at play. The result is an effect as inevitable as its pairing, a choose-your-own-adventure story in sound that asks of us only to take the first step.

(This review originally appeared, in condensed form, in the March 2020 issue of DownBeat magazine.)

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