Pål Nyberg – Lowlands
(AMP Music AT086. CD review by Rob Mallows; released 5 March 2021)
Swedish guitarist Pål Nyberg is a standard-bearer for straight-no-chaser jazz guitar, a player who combines composed melody and improvisation so well that you don’t notice where one ends and the other begins.
Marketed as ‘cool jazz’ in the press release accompanying the album, this is indeed definitely not about propulsion and momentum, so would not be a good choice for your evening lockdown walk or run.
No, this is an album to experience sitting down, eyes closed, perhaps with a glass of wine or cup of tea. And to listen to. Intently.
Joining Nyberg is Markus Jägerstedt on keyboards, Per “Texas” Johansson on clarinet, German saxophonist Birgitta Flick and brothers Konrad (drums) and Mauritz Agnas (bass), who have both collaborated with Pat Metheny and Nils Landgren among others. Their ensemble playing is flawless and, on the face of it, apparently effortless too, as this album glides along like a swan on a flat mill pond.
Lowlands starts with a swooping, mournful melody by Johansson over shuffling drums, but the track is enlivened as the crystal-clear tone of Nyberg’s guitar is introduced. This is very much an aperitif of a track, whetting the appetite.
Much of the album is slow in tempo, as evidenced by Café de Jaren, a ballad with whisper thin drums way in the background that’s all about tone and mood and colouring the spaces in between the notes. A track to calm and reassure.
On the Island has a jauntier tempo and develops oomph as the bass starts walking and Nyberg picks some queer and angular chord shapes and passing notes that makes the track as light and breezy as riding a bicycle down a hilly, country lane with the wind blowing through you hair. Johansson’s squeaky clarinet adds to the summery atmosphere.
Title track Lowlands announces itself with a crashing chord that dissipates slowly into nothingness as bass and guitar and clarinet enter, accompanied by featherlight drums. Nyberg creates sparse arpeggios and kitten-soft chords; it is light jazz in every sense of the adjective, but retains significant mass.
Lowlands II has a family resemblance but this is an altogether more ‘up’ track, with Nyberg and Johannson’s unison playing and the simplest of drum patterns creating a pleasingly playful number.
Nørrebro – another ballad – develops as a tune when Flick’s sax, all dirty changes and trills, adds warp to the sonic weave, and all the while Nyberg’s guitar insistently fills the space with note after note selected with the care of a sommelier in a fine London restaurant. Nothing seems wasted or unnecessary.
Apostel II is really all about the bass of Mauritz Agnas at the start, with some lovely glissando phrasing, while Fox & Hedgehog has a simple 4/4 bass line that just sits there, unchanging, pushing back the undergrowth for Johansson’s clarinet and Flick’s sax to explore. Short, but bursting with colour.
This album offers nothing to set the blood racing, but that’s the point. It is an aural blanket in which to luxuriate as its soothing, at times cinematic sound just stretches out around you.
Nordic jazz continues to mine the richest of musical motherlodes and this album is another example of the fine jewels that can result.