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Monday, May 29, 2023

Bengt Frippe Nordström – Vinyl Box (Ni Vu Ni Connu, 2023)

By Nick Ostrum

As a fan of Swedish saxophonist and visionary (he was the first to record Albert Ayler!) Bengt Frippe Nordström since I first heard him on Arthur Doyle and Sunny Murray’s Live at the Glenn Miller Café (Ayler Records) back in the mid-2000s, my heart began to race when I saw this release. Un- or underheard archival solo cuts from Nordström, including one apparently playing over a recording of When Will the Blues Leave? on the Ornette Coleman Quartet’s Something Else? (What a curio!) Several short contributions from Swedish admirers Anna Högberg, Isak Hedtjärn, Dror Feiler, Jörgen Adolfsson, Mats Gustafsson, and Sven-Åke Johansson? All splayed out across numerous vinyls, packaged with a book of essays, a playful Frippe Nordström (think the American department store Nordstrom’s) bag and whatever other tschotscke’s Ni Vu Ni Connu decided to throw in there? Alas, I discovered it too late, and the physical vinyl set was sold out! Still, I was able to procure a digital version.

I imagine I am speaking to the converted, here, as much as anyone else. The quality of the Nordström cuts are what you should expect. He recorded a few albums of various sound qualities, here remastered to clarify what could be clarified. And, all things considered, it sounds good. The outside contributions are especially crisp and pay due homage to Nordström’s expressionistic, yet oddly swinging sound blotches. Mostly, they stray from the saxophone, however. Sven-Åke Johansson contribution starts with a saxophone solo (I am not sure whether this is Johansson, a crisp recording of Nordström himself, or someone else), but quickly falls into a brush-stroke groove and a Johansson singing number. The other outside contributions focus on long-tones (Hedtjärn, Adolfsson), quick, biting attacks (Feiler), Nordström’s patient, awkward meldocism (Högberg) and breath whisps (Gustafsson), showing the many possibilities Nordström pursued or implied a half-century ago.

Of course, the main attractions are the original archival pieces. I am not sure they show much new about Nordström’s approach. Indeed, this sounds more representative of Nordström’s other releases than it does divergent. One hears the relentlessly spiky scales, the pointillist and gestural abstraction, the casually frayed Ayler-esque melodies. (Supposedly, many of these were inspired by the Scandinavian folk music with which Nordström would have been familiar, so the flow of inspiration might not have just been monodirectional.) Nordström may not have been among the technical saxophone titans, but he certainly was a visionary, who honed an approach and a sound all his own.

If you like Nordström’s other work or if you were intrigued by Mats Gustafsson’s 2012 homage Bengt, or even if not, give this set a listen. It has a lot to offer, and some hitherto largely unheard stories to tell.