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Saturday, April 25, 2020

Anna Högberg Attack - Lena (Omlott, 2020) *****

In my list of the most anticipated albums, this one was on the top it, ever since the blog conducted an interview with Swedish sax player-composer-bandleader Anna Högberg two years ago. Thinking again, actually since the release of the debut album of her sextet Attack four years ago. There are very few bands that can put a spell on you so quickly and with such spiritual-emotional power as this one. Högberg’s mentor, Swedish sax titan, Mats Gustafsson, who wrote the liner notes to both albums, tried to decode this spell and came out with “a primal force of something… real” and after numerous times of listening to the new album Lena felt wrote that it “hit me like a split axe in a split second”. Yes, this album asks for a certain degree of addiction. You may find yourself listening to it a few times a day, enjoying the many spells of it.

Lena, titled after Högberg’s mother, features one major change in the line-up of Attack. Trumpeter Niklas Barnö replaces tenor sax player Malin Wättring who pursued a successful solo career. Tenor sax player Elin Forkelid, pianist Lisa Ullén, double bass player Elsa Bergman and drummer Anna Lund round this band. The sensual cover art of Lena corresponds with the art of the debut album of Attack debut album, both done by Lisa Grip. It is released as a vinyl and lasts only 41 minutes, as the debut album.

And, indeed, continuity, is a key idea in the world Högberg and Attack. Clearly, the seminal influences are the fiery free jazz of the sixties in the United States and Europe, but Högberg and Attack don’t dwell on the past but suggest a very personal take on this legacy, opening it to new, beautiful avenues. Gustafsson thinks that it has something of the location of Högberg’s home, in the forest of Höga Kusten (the Swedish High Coast) and very close to the sea, a place that charges her music with unique, innocent flavors (and he mentions that this region is “famous for the ultimate delicacy Surströmming, the sour herring”). I am no expert in the Swedish herring delicacies, but Gustafsson is obviously right. There is something pure and very profound in the music of Högberg.

Lena begins with a brutal solo alto sax cry of Högberg that pays her respects to Peter Brötzmann and Gustafsson but lacks the manic rage of the German titan. Instead, Högberg takes the sextet into a wild, soulful fanfare on the opening piece, “Pappa Kom Hem”. The following “Det Är Inte För Sent” develops gently. Lund sets the sparse atmosphere, Ullén and Barnö intensify it patiently and with beautiful, poetic imagination, and inviting Högberg, Forkelid, and Bergman to join them for the melodic coda. “Dansa Margit” dances around a hard-swinging, free theme (swinging beyond swing according to Gustafsson), call for personal interpretations but aim for open yet collective dynamics, with strong, emphatic support and no rush. The second side begins with “Tjuv” that presents Attack in full force, a tight and powerful unit that celebrates its deep roots and distinct personalities and voices with an engaging theme, groove and uncompromising force. “Pärlemor” and “Äntligen” cement, again, how the addition of Barnö enriches and deepens the sonic envelope of Attack. His own poetic, precise attacks turn to be the secret ingredient in the most tasteful, creative stew of Anna Högberg Attack.

And back to Gustafsson. He promised early on in his liner notes to the debut album of Anna Högberg Attack that this band will “melt your brain as we know it”. Mine is already melted. I can guarantee that yours will reach that state soon enough, despite the dire times.


Richard said...

Hi Eyal, you wrote "In my list of the most anticipated albums, this one was on the top it". Same here and glad to see it lives up to those standards. Also, it seems Lisa Ullen is having another excellent year.

It's available on bandcamp for those who favor such things:

Thanks, Eyal!

Leonardo Lopez said...

Thank you! I had great difficulty finding this just by searching Google, FYI.

Richard said...

Bandcamp is always my first stop in. hunting albums and their recommendations are also quite good. I've found all sorts of stuff I would have missed otherwise. For example, yesterday, saw the release of two free jazz drums-guitar duo albums:

Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon-To Catch A Bird In A Net Of Wind
Tatsuya Nakatani & Shane Parish-Interactivity

Lee said...

LP can be purchased here:

laslaw01 said...

With all due respect for a great review, I've known Peter Brötzmann (personally) for over 40 years. His sound is definitely not about rage, let alone manic rage.