Live reviews

REVIEW: 4 Wheel Drive (Landgren / Wollny / Haffner / Danielsson) at Ronnie Scott’s

Nils Landgren, Prinzregententheater, Munich. April 2019
Photo credit: Thomas J. Krebs

4 Wheel Drive (Nils Landgren /Michael Wollny /Wolfgang Haffner /Lars Danielsson)
Ronnie Scott’s. 22 April 2019. Review by Sebastian Scotney)

There are moments in gigs when the listener gets the sense that everything is really clicking, falling into place, when an inexorable sense of lift-off is being achieved, and that something very special is happening. The latter half of the Michael Wollny tune Polygon in 4 Wheel Drive’s performance to a sold-out Ronnie Scott’s was one of those moments. It was a moment to ask, to hope, perhaps…that this gig might be getting recorded…(it wasn’t).

That wasn’t the only moment when there was a sense of a special occasion about last night at Ronnie’s. This band normally plays much larger theatres, so the chance to hear them in close-up was unusual and welcome. But there was more: it also turned out, improbable though it may seem, that this was in fact Nils Landgren‘s Ronnie’s debut. He said how he remembers visiting the club in 1976, and hearing both George Melly – and (yes ’twas the year!) a punk band in the bar upstairs, but until last night he had literally never played or sung in the club at any point in the four decades since then.

Wolfgang Haffner
Prinzregententheater, Munich. April 2019
Photo credit: Thomas J. Krebs

There are other reasons why this band can, almost as a matter of course, create something special. Perhaps first because it brings with it a sense of a freeing-up happening: all four members are bandleaders, and the feeling that this environment takes away the pressure from each of them, that it can give them permission to go in unpredictable directions was palpable. Bassist Lars Danielsson in particular benefits from having the solidly propulsive rhythmic force of Wolfgang Haffner for company. Danielsson’s light tough and high playing in his solo on Maybe I’m Amazed was a delight. Haffner also has an acute awareness of the right volume level to play at, and the way he can take the lead in intensity builds is something quite remarkable

The presence of Haffner allows other things to happen too, such as allowing unfamiliar sides of Michael Wollny‘s playing to come the fore. We heard the known tropes, like the music-box./ Wunderkammer aspect of his playing, above all on the Genesis tune That’s All, but in Lady Madonna he had the chance to stretch out with some purer jazz playing than we normally hear from him, and it produced all kinds of fascinating echoes and resonances: Fats Waller, then Errol Garner and at the apex of the solo, Don Pullen.

Other expectations were being confounded too. There are so many examples of 7/4 meter coming across as over-deliberate and leaden-footed (or have I just been exposed to too much Lloyd Webber?), it was a joy to hear a band that can set up a groove in seven and hold it and keep it really alive and organic, as this quartet did in their re-tooled Lady Madonna.

It was also a joy to hear the vivid contrast between Landgren’s singing (based on a measured, slow, lyrical approach) and his trombone playing (fast filigree and technically jaw-dropping, often with the fluidity and facility of valve trombone playing).

Four Wheel Drive
Prinzregententheater, Munich. April 2019
Photo credit: Thomas J. Krebs

A special occasion at Ronnie’s, then, and a rare treat.


She’s Always a Woman (Billy Joel)
Lady Madonna (McCartney / Lennon)
Another Day in Paradise (Phil Collins)
4 Wheel Drive (Danielsson)
Maybe I’m Amazed
Lobito (Haffner)

That’s All (Collins/ Rutherford/ Banks)
Shadows in the Rain (Sting)
Polygon (Wollny)
If you Love Somebody Set Them Free (Sting)
Encore: Le Chat Sur Toit (Landgren)

LINKS: Richard Lee’s review of the 4 Wheel Drive CD
Short film about 4WD from German nationwide TV (ZDF)

Categories: Live reviews

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