Monday, July 9, 2018

Vilhelm Bromanders Initiativ - Allt åt Alla (Signal and Sound Records, 2017) ****

By Lee Rice Epstein

Although bassist Vilhelm Bromander dubbed his new quintet “Initiativ,” he could have just as easily called it “kollektiv,” a democratic configuration he acknowledges in describing the group as “a non-hierarchical collective with roots in the '60s free jazz and contemporary improvised music.” The inspirations are right there on the band’s sleeves, from the opening notes of “Mot Kung & Fosterland,” with saxophonist Marthe Lea and trumpeter Niklas Barnö playing the melodic, hummable, Blue Note-esque unison melody. About a minute or so in, drummer Christopher Cantillo signals the shift towards contemporary improvisation, and Lea leaps to the foreground with a superb solo. When the melody returns, Bromander, Cantilo, and pianist Lisa Ullén are in a much fierier state, with Ullén, especially, adding layers of depth.

“Cococo” opens with Bromander, Ullén, and Cantillo scraping, tapping, and wringing strained tones to set up the somewhat plaintive melody. Barnö takes a brief unaccompanied solo, which serves as a warm-up for his gorgeously elegiac line that follows. Ullén’s ringing piano doubles Barnö’s voicing nicely, and the two get several chances throughout the album to showcase their wonderful interactions. Likewise, Lea’s playing on the somber “Rockefeller Rock” is both expressive and patient. A middle section of group improvisation is the first extended workout we hear from the whole band, and it recasts the entire album, bringing it squarely into the contemporary canon. This subtle shift carries the band forward into the equally extended “Allt åt Alla” and “Den Bortglömda Utopin.”

That the album was pressed to LP makes a lot of sense, if you think of this as a “Side A” and “Side B,” with the title track and “Den Bortglömda Utopin” comprising that second side. “Allt åt Alla” opens with a clattering, vibrant melody, a la Don Cherry. Again (appropriately) Barnö takes an early solo, leading into a long showcase for the excellent pairing of Barnö and Ullén. The whole group opens up here, Cantillo maintaining a brisk swing. Later, the group segments, mutates, and subdivides in quick succession, as different pairings rapidly coalesce and fly apart. “Den Bortglömda Utopin” is a fitting finale, with the whole group in fine form. Lea, especially, takes an early, dense solo, and the melody she and Barnö play out the band with mixes melancholy reflection with a gentle warmth. The somewhat political undertones of the album were lost on me until I started translating the song titles, but I soon realized the truth had been visible, on the surface, throughout the album. Again, even in the group’s name, Initiativ, which could be collective, taking action, self-motivated, trying to improve a present situation. As with its many inspirations from 50 years ago, maybe we’re ready to hear it.

“Mot Kung Och Fosterland”

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