Wayne Shorter, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin…and John Cage are among the influences that Swedish-born pianist Lars Jansson and Danish saxophonist Thomas Agergaard acknowledge on “Garden of Sounds”, their new duo album released by the Arts label. Feature by Rob Adams.
Rising to the demanding, intimate and personal challenge of the piano-saxophone duo setting, these celebrated, significant figures of Scandinavian jazz have recorded a joint statement that has strong undercurrents of curiosity and exploration and yet also carries an air of contentment that reflects the stage they have reached in their musical lives.
Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.
Growing up in Sweden’s sixth-largest city, Örebro, Lars Jansson was a reluctant classical piano student, finding lessons boring until a different teacher encouraged his interest in jazz. He studied dentistry after leaving school but soon switched to music, attending the conservatory in Gothenburg and eventually joining Norwegian bassist Arild Andersen’s group.
He later spent an inspiring year with saxophonist Jan Garbarek and played in big bands with Bob Mintzer and Maria Schneider while also leading his own trio, which he has now done for over thirty years.
Thomas Agergaard grew up in Ordrup, a suburb of Copenhagen, with a constant soundtrack provided by his artist parents’ Beatles, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix and classical records.
Musicians in his immediate family introduced him to Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, and Stan Getz and in his teens a friend was able to get them into the legendary Copenhagen jazz club, Montmartre, as often as three times a week to see big names including Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon, Art Blakey, and Pharoah Sanders. When his saxophone teacher suggested he listen to Miles Davis’ Milestones and Ralph Towner’s Solstice, Agergaard’s course as a jazz musician was set.
Larsson and Agergaard’s musical relationship goes back to the 1990s, when the saxophonist’s Green Cities album, which wasn’t released until 2021, was recorded. There’s a strong bond between them and their mutual admiration comes through on Garden of Sounds.
“Lars creates a very relaxed atmosphere because his rhythmic foundation is so strong,” says Agergaard. “It is truly fantastic to create music with a musician like that.”
For Jansson, it’s Agergaard’s open mind and great presence that make for vivid and exciting musical creations.
Of the album’s eighteen tracks, all but one – George Gershwin’s I Loves You Porgy – were composed either by Jansson and Agergaard individually or together, in the case of the freely improvised Birds Flying Suites l and ll.
These suites were a revelation to both Larsson and Agergaard. Although they have performed together regularly, neither musician had any inkling that they could create music so spontaneously. Yet as the album’s producer, Thomas Lyngdam-Lange, observes, “They were both happy and even surprised by the result and despite the inherent uncertainty in playing so freely, the music is strong and inspiring.”
Other tracks find the duo in much more certain terrain. Agergaard’s “Quiet View” is heavily inspired by the Charlie Haden composition “Silence”, which he first heard as a young man on Keith Jarrett’s Bop-Be album.
“Small hints of that song have in a way always lived inside me,” says the saxophonist. “Quietness interpreted by music is a beautiful and interesting thought. It’s not exactly a chorale, but it has the feeling and atmosphere of one. Playing a simple melody can be just as hard as playing something very intricate or virtuosic.”
There are shades of Keith Jarrett again in “I Loves You Porgy”, on which Agergaard aims for the same simplicity that Jarrett brought to Gershwin’s ballad, noting the effectiveness of a less is more approach.
Garden of Sounds itself is Jansson’s personal homage to John Cage and, says the pianist, “his inspiring mindset towards life”. There are elements of Cage, too, in the waltz-time “A Rare Italian Bird”, Larsson’s heartfelt tribute to the Italian clarinettist and ornithologist Gabriele Mirabassi, a Cage devotee.
Although it’s Jansson and Agergaard’s album, for producer Thomas Lyngdam-Lange, there are other elements to consider with Garden of Sounds.
“Lars and Thomas’ friendship is an obvious factor,” he says. “Recording engineer Boe Larsen has captured the sound exquisitely and the great Stefano Amerio’s mixing and mastering raised the recording to another level. But there’s something else: Boe’s beautiful Steinway grand piano. What a marvel. A truly outstanding instrument, it’s almost like a living entity.”
PP features are part of marketing packages