Live review

Örjan Hultén’s Orion at NAC, Wolverhampton

Örjan Hultén’s Orion
(NAC, Wolverhampton, 22 September 2019. 
Review and photos by John Watson)

What glorious variety there is in the long history of Swedish jazz – from the early days of musicians inspired by the traditions of New Orleans and Chicago, to performers whose work reflected the developments in swing, bop and post-bop. 

Örjan Hultén in Wolverhampton (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

Then came something more original – the distinctive, spacious creations of musicians such as pianist Bobo Stenson, and the powerful folk music vocalist and violinist Lena Willemark in her inspired creations with musicians mainly steeped in jazz, such as the marvellous album Windogor (Amigo Musik, released in 2000), which featured – among others – Stenson, bassist Palle Danielsson and percussionist Lisbeth Diers. 

The most celebrated of all Swedish jazz musicians, is of course, the late pianist Esbjörn Svensson, whose gently pulsing trio e.s.t. gained a huge following. (On 25 October the ACT label will release for the first time  e.s.t. Live In Gothenburg, a recording from 2001.)

And surely one of the most exciting drummers in jazz is Anton Eger, whose spectacular work we know best through his recordings and concerts with the international trio Phronesis.

Now we are becoming more familiar with the work of saxophonist Örjan Hultén, whose group Orion opened a UK tour at the NAC venue in Wolverhampton, at the start of an extensive UK tour organised by Birmingham Jazz for the Jazz WM Network.

The tour promotes the group’s new album, Minusgrader (Artogrush), reviewed enthusiastically for LondonJazzNews earlier this year by Adrian Pallant.

And there is indeed much to enthuse over in the playing of these four Swedes – perhaps no startling originality, but beautifully crafted contemporary jazz, delivered with warmth and good humour. 

Örjan Hultén’s Orion (Photo © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk)

It was in the second set that Hultén, pianist Torbjörn Gutz, bassist Filip Augustson and drummer Peter Danemo displayed their greatest dynamism, with outstanding themes including Etude 4, a Middle Eastern-influenced piece with a slithering melody played by the leader on soprano. On this, Hultén switched to tenor and opened his solo with breathy sub-tones, evolving into more muscular playing with some Brecker-ish bent notes.

Man With Orange is another vibrant piece, with two tempos – a loping medium slow blues feel, and then a fast 4/4 – with tremendous drive from Danemo’s drums, and a growling soprano from the leader.

The concert had opened with the darkly atmospheric title track of Minusgrader, which translates as Minus Degrees (the saxophonist helpfully introduced in English those pieces with Swedish titles). Another fine and very jaunty piece followed, October In May, by pianist Gutz. But compared to the lively second set, the first set lacked the fire and variety which Orion can offer, 

Perhaps we can blame a heavy meal the band had enjoyed just before the concert, at a Polish restaurant (“I think we’re finally melting the pork now,” Hultén told the audience towards the end of the first set.) This stimulates an interesting thought: Should musicians consider pre-performance nutrition as seriously as athletes do?

LINK: John Watson’s jazzcamera website

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