While the phenomenon of the Nordic tone certainly exists, far from all Swedish jazz musicians play in a way that connects to local folk music or some state of mind remnant of films by Ingmar Bergman. Trumpeter Peter Asplund, for one, has never dodged the challenge of going head-to-head with the great heritage from across the big pond. A stunning virtuoso, he plays the American songbook superbly, adding anything Swedish or Nordic only in a secondary way, as there are only subtle reflections of it in his personal sound.
He once told me about being able to revisit the grand masters of the instrument only after having completed a circle of intense composing. It wasn’t until then that he felt he could interpret somebody like Louis Armstrong.
On his latest album, Asplund takes on music by the great Leonard Bernstein. Along with his quartet and the Dalasinfoniettan symphony orchestra conducted by Mats Hålling, he brings together jazz with symphonic arrangements in a very stringent way, making the music sound fresh and dexterous even when it is at its grandest.
I like to toy with the idea that Swedish jazz musicians have been coming along in roughly five waves. In the first, they mostly copied Americans. In the second they began searching for their own selves, sometimes crossing over into folk music, local as well as Indian and African. The third wave produced some great musicians who were slightly pushed back by the not so great climate for straight-ahead jazz in the 80’s. The fourth — where I place Asplund — musicians finally dared to play with the kind of drive and panache that you would have had to go stateside to find only a decade ago.
In the fifth wave the cumulative effect is stronger than perhaps ever before. The passing on of knowledge both within formal education and through word of mouth has built a confidence in young Swedish jazz musicians that allows them to flourish sooner and to choose their paths more individualistically.
Of course, I am generalizing here, and in my writing to come I will happily prove my wave theory inaccurate or downright useless in more than one case. But until then, dig Peter Asplund of the fourth wave.