Album reviews

Koma Saxo with Sofia Jernberg – ‘Koma West’

Koma Saxo with Sofia Jernberg – Koma West
(We Jazz Records. Review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Petter Eldh must be one of the most versatile, and indeed most brilliant, musicians in Europe. He is Swedish, but studied in Denmark at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory where he joined Django Bates’ wonderfully esoteric StoRMChaser big band. He has continued his relationship with Bates in the latter’s Belovèd Trio, and also become a key member of Kit Downes’ ENEMY trio, writing half of the compositions of the trio’s latest ECM album Vermillion. He is now based in Berlin where he has become a key musical partner of vocalist Lucia Cadotsch in her Sweet Low trio. He has led and written for his own Amok Amor group, and played a key role in projects of drummer Christian Lillinger.

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He now leads Koma Saxo, whose first two albums, Peter Eldh Presents Koma Saxo and Koma Saxo Live, featured a quintet with drummer Christian Lillinger, and saxophonists Otis Sandsjö, Jonas Kullhammer and Mikko Innanen. His third album, Koma West, presents a larger ensemble which includes in its line up vocalist Sofia Jernberg, two improvising string players, Maria Reich on violin and Lucy Railton on cello, and pianist Kit Downes, as well as the members of the original quintet.

The larger ensemble makes the music on this album quite different from that on the previous two. Those albums presented punchy, full on music while on this, there is a wide range of moods. The characteristic features are the use of vocal textures provided by Jernberg and the string arrangements for Reich and Railton.   

The tracks are quite short with only one track lasting more than four minutes, but Eldh packs a lot into each track. Koma Krig, for examplebegins with a rhythmically strong passage with Sandsjö on alto clarinetcharacteristically staccato drumming from Lillinger and a vocal line from Jernberg which moves into a second passage with the strings playing a lively arrangement by Eldh. All of this is packed into a 3.34 minute track, which reminds one of the way Duke Ellington put so much into tracks such as Harlem Air Shaft. 

The following track, Flamman, is by contrast much more relaxed with Jernberg developing an attractive melodic line over the ensemble.

The music is partly rooted in the West Coast of Sweden where Eldh grew up, and Ostron Accordion features an aspect of the folk music of the region with Kiki Eldh on accordion. She is, however, accompanied by Lillinger on drums and Petter Eldh on bass thus bringing a more contemporary drive to the track. It finishes with a more folksy line for the horns. Kiki Eldh is described on the CD sleeve as the ‘momvillain’, so I assume she is Petter’s mother.

All the tracks are written by Eldh bar one, Närhet by Fritz Sjöström, but arranged by Eldh. This is the only track where Jernberg sings lyrics.

The music on this album presents an innovative approach to contemporary jazz. The short length of the tracks gives the music an attractive flow with varied textures arising from the use of wordless vocals, the arrangements for strings, the hip hop-influenced drumming, the writing for the horns and the occasional electronic effect. It all has an improvisatory feel, but the music is, in fact, quite structured with relatively few individual solos. 

LINK: Koma West on Bandcamp

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