What if literature was about literature, and film was about film? Wouldn’t that be strange? In reality, of course, almost any book or film aside of some purely academic or arty “meta” stuff is about something else, like a family, a war, some guy in trouble, a love story or any other more or less human aspect.
But when it comes to modern instrumental music it is not that obvious, is it? I believe that to many of us, music with no singing in it doesn’t carry much meaning but itself. We dig the groove or appreciate the tonal beauty, but only rarely do we think more of a tune’s title than just something to call it. Even more seldom do we check up on when and where the music was recorded, if there was something special about the occasion, or even read the linear notes — if there are any.
Context. In a recent review of Swedish double bass player Oskar Schönning’s new release Belgrade tapes that was the first word I wrote. Like the title suggests, Schönning and his band recorded the music in Serbia. It was done both live and in studio settings. You can hear the atmospheres, sometimes even street noise and people talking. And maybe most significantly: the record actually has lyrics to it, but in written form only, as they are exclusively printed in the booklet that comes with it. Still, accompanying each tune there is a text, as well as photos from the band’s visit to the Balkans.
So, what is the music about? It’s jazz, obviously — but surely not jazz about jazz. Schönning merges together simplicity with sophistication, creating a music that might lead to images or just as well step back; accompanying anything the listener might come to think of reading the lyrics or watching the pictures. In a dreamlike way it’s a trip to Serbia — and then again, it’s not. As a listener I bring my own projections, traveling in my head this way and that, geographically as well as in time. Nevertheless it is Schönning’s music that brings the whole adventure to life.
On another recently released Swedish jazz record, Opening, piano player Mathias Landaeus and his trio play a piece of his called “Höghussommar” , meaning (freely translated) “summer by the high-rise buildings” in Swedish. Combined with Landaeus’ melancholic playing in the folk-flavored style of the iconic pianist Jan Johansson, it projects a perfect image of Stockholm suburbs in summer time, when most habitants are away on vacation and a kid might stroll around kicking a can in the streets.