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CD Review: Bohuslan Big Band/ Colin Towns / Nils Landgren – Don’t Fence Me In

Bohuslan Big Band/Colin Towns /Nils Landgren – Don’t Fence Me In
(ACT ACT 9028-2. CD Review by Frank Griffith)

Colin Towns is well known for his many associations with continental European big bands. On this CD he is working with Sweden’s Bohuslan Big Band led by trombonist/vocalist, Nils Landgren. Towns’ recent projects include the music of Frank Zappa and John Lennon, as well as countless TV and film scores including “Our Friends from the North”. For an overview of his career see this LondonJazz feature.

All of these influences no doubt come to the fore in his unique and eclectic treatments of the largely 1930s melodies created by one of the Broadway stage’s most prolific and influential composers, Cole Porter. Towns is clearly celebrating Porter’s inherent theatricality and lyrics in this case, but this is at the risk of the composer’s innovative harmonies and rich and quirky melodies sometimes going unexplored and unexploited.
Most of the pieces are based on rhythmic grooves with largely modal harmonies (1 or 2 chords) and melodies added on top- as if they are an afterthought or secondary in some way. One of Porter’s most distinctive melodies, “Begin the Beguine”, is a given a ten minute modal treatment replete with a driving groove that also provides the basis for for spirited trombone and alto sax solos. It does certainly provide a unique and inspired approach, but to these ears not one that gets fully under the skin of the song.

Landgren is admired by London-based trombonist (and fellow Swede) Mattias Eskilsson for having a part of the trombone’s register which he completely makes his own with an inimitable signature sound. “He’s got the flow,” says Eskilsson. And, indeed, Landgren’s Tommy Dorsey-esque fluid melodicism portrays Porter’s songs with rich aplomb. His singing, while in tune and distinctive (it has a Sting-like, hoarse quality) is a somewhat puzzling addition to the mix.

The Bohuslan Big Band is a highly talented, skilled and professional unit as is their fearless leader’s trombone and vocals. The arrangements are unique and challenging – to say the least – but , for this listener’s ears, don’t offer up the full range of colours and possibilities that lurk and thrive in Porter’s music.

ACT Music and Vision

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