Release date: April 29, 2002
Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson has one of the most endearing relationships to the keyboard one could ever imagine. Despite having carved a path distinct enough through the ECM catalog to warrant one masterful session after another under his own name, he has left behind a formative constellation of contributions as sideman, some of which are included in the present sequence. Each is significant in its own way. With trumpeter Don Cherry (Dona Nostra, 1994), he explored new realms of old material and old realms in new, riding the line between sadness and joy in Ornette Coleman’s “What Reason Could I Give” and flowing ever forward in “Ahayu-Da.” As part of saxophonist Charles Lloyd’s band from the late 1980s into the next decade, he lent his more-than-comping abilities to 1993’s The Call alongside bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Billy Hart in quiet ecstasis, and unraveled the inner thoughts of “Little Peace” on 1995’s All My Relations. Yet nowhere was his presence so well integrated as in Tomasz Stanko’s band. The trumpeter’s original tune “Morning Heavy Song” (Leosia, 1997) is just one of many magical exchanges to which he contributed shaded interpretations.
Stenson and Jormin were attached at the hip in every session they shared, so it was only natural they should remain together when Stenson formed his own trio, closing the triangle with drummer Jon Christensen. There are plenty of moments to cherish here, starting with an explosive take on “Untitled” (another Coleman tune) from 1971’s Underwear. More somber waystations await the curious traveler in Duke Ellington’s “Reflections In D” (Reflections, 1996) and “Oleo De Mujer Con Sombrero” (War Orphans, 1998) by Silvio Rodriguez. Both are standouts in Stenson’s recorded history and feel like music you’d hear in a dream yet still remember after waking. In the tactility of the latter tune especially, Stenson achieves what he does best: describing a vast scene with minimal gestures. Even deeper mastery awaits behind the doors of 2000’s Serenity, which explains the goldmine of material chosen from it here. The first, “East Print,” is an audible inverse equation by Christensen, who plays as if his drums were feet. The others, “Fader V (Father World)” and “Golden Rain,” are Stenson originals in which bass and drums take off their masks to flesh out the composer’s skeletal philosophies. They are also among his most atmospherically authentic creations, reminding us that inner lives should never be forgotten in favor of façades.
Neither can we forget the relatively combustible era of Stenson’s quartet with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson, and Christensen at the kit. And while both “Svevende” (Dansere, 1976) and the title track of 1974’s Witchi-Tai-To are Garbarek-heavy tunes, Stenson’s sporadic details lend them a charm unbound to a single name. His runs and accentuating clusters are the currents beneath Garbarek’s screeching flights of improvisation, bold and free of artifice.
Though Stenson’s selected recordings mark the eighth of twenty nominal volumes in the :rarumseries, given that the first two were double-disc affairs, we now find ourselves at the midway point in terms of CD count. And so, you can also find Volumes I-VIII available as a boxed set, released in 2002. However you find it packaged, don’t let this one slip under your radar, as it is among the label’s essential compilations.