Landgren–Wollny–Danielsson–Haffner – 4 Wheel Drive
(ACT 9875-2. CD Review by Richard Lee)
My introduction to Nils Landgren was through his collaboration with Colin Towns on their wonderful 2007 reimagining of Cole Porter classics, Don’t Fence Me In. That collection not only featured his remarkably graceful trombone lines, but also similarly gentle vocals on most of the songs. Here on 4 Wheel Drive he heads what is effectively a supergroup of past collaborators.
Michael Wollny’s agile piano, together with Lars Danielsson’s bass & cello, and Wolfgang Haffner’s drums form a superbly tight rhythm section, and each of the four contributes an original piece which acts as waymarks to a set-list of rock standards from the 20th century. It’s almost a concept album: a rock songbook exploring people under pressure, and the surprises of finding oneself in love. If that sounds like a challenge to purists, well, get over it… Paul McCartney has always been an original on bass and dabbled with songbook-type jazz; Phil Collins’ big-band work and Sting’s (Gordon Sumner) recruiting of jazz greats were heart-on-sleeve passion-projects; and Billy Joel’s piano-bar songs have found their way into the modern repertoire. And this quartet has a fantastically easy affinity with their work as composers and instrumentalists. Danielsson cites McCartney as his favourite bass player and Sting is a constant presence in Landgren’s repertoire.
The opening instrumental original by Wollny – Polygon – heralds that sophisticated rocky feel we’re now familiar with from post-EST European bands. As an opener, it sets out the band’s stall as assured players but there’s a change of gear into Phil Collins’ Another Day In Paradise, showcasing Landgren’s wistful vocal and his rather beautiful trombone. Lady Madonna originally drew on Humph’s Bad Penny Blues, and here gets a funkier reggae-tinged outing as an instrumental with Wollny to the fore. All tracks are around the 4-5 minute mark, so solos have to be crafted and to the point. That’s something that Branford Marsalis recently mentioned as a discipline he had to develop while working with Sting, whose Shadows In The Rain is hauntingly underscored by Danielsson’s bass and Landgren’s unshowy bluesy tenor.
The pace picks up again with Haffner’s sprightly Spanish-inflected Lobito before Landgren leads rather touchingly on McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed. Wollny’s piano perfectly complements him and then we find ourselves in the unashamed romantic centre of the album as Billy Joel’s She’s Always A Woman is taken at half its usual speed. This might have exposed Landgren’s vocal but the clarity in his sure-footed delivery together with the band’s sensitivity is admirable. Landgren’s original contribution Le chat sur toit follows, its opening and closing themes echoing the Joel song, but with a terrific upbeat groove at its centre featuring Landgren’s stand-out solo. The Joel tribute is completed with a straight take on Just The Way You Are, finely sung but which had me longing for more of Wollny’s soloing. From here on out it’s pretty much into full-on four-wheel drive: Sting’s If You Love Somebody (Set Them Free) rocks as hard as the original; Collins’ (& Genesis’) That’s All is properly anthemic, and if Danielsson’s 4WD isn’t as raw as Smells Like Teen Spirit (which apparently inspired it) it’s a hard-driving coda to an enjoyable song-based album from an impeccably controlled quartet.
4 Wheel Drive is released on ACT today 15 March 2019
Categories: CD review