Marius Neset, Nils Landgren and Tonbruket light up Ystad Jazz Fest

Now in its eighth year the Ystad Jazz Festival (not far from Malmo in southern Sweden) shows that with strong programing and excellent organisation new festivals can grow and create an audience (and future) for themselves. This year the festival featured 43 concerts at 10 venues over six days – a comprehensive musical programme featured most types of jazz from straight-ahead to free improv and many points in between.

There were back to back concerts from 11am to 11pm while being very varied it is also quite tiring – going from big band to avant-garde takes its toll on the ears and brain. Major artists who appeared this year included Joshua Redman (playing with his Still Dreaming band featuring the music of his father Dewey), Al Foster, Al Di Meola (in a duet with Sardinian guitarist Peo Alfonsi, below) and Hiromi and Edmar Castaneda (a remarkable duo with so much energy).

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Artistic director and pianist Jan Lundgren also played two major concerts – one with his Potsdamer Quartet featuring Jukka Perko (sax), Dan Berglund (bass) and Morten Lund (drums) and one duo concert featuring himself with trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren (below). The latter for me was the better of the two concerts, with Landgren's laid back vocal style very enjoyable. His versions of Leon Russell's, 'This Masquerade' and Hoagy Carmichael's 'The Nearness of You' were sublime as was his trombone playing all night – the finale of Joe Sample's melancholic 'Same Old Story, Same Old Song' including audience participation to Landgren's hand written lyric sheet was just joyous.

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ACT label boss Siggi Loch was in town for his 77th birthday celebrations with a succession of his artists. Marius Neset, Lars Danielsson and Morten Lund (picture top) started the proceedings playing songs from their excellent Sun Blowing album. Neset in ebullient mood blew up a storm with Lund as manic as ever on drums. Next up were Dan Berglund's Tonbruket (below) who played a wonderful gig at the Ystad Saltsjobad – a beachside spa resort 10 minutes outside the town. The instrumentation of the band is extremely varied with keyboards, electronics, guitars, pedal steel, bass, percussion and violin – all of which allowed the music to ebb and flow like the sea outside the venue – at times pastoral and then heavy jazz rock, but always interesting and fresh sounding.

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Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala played solo in the Monastery a set that included Gershwin, Bizet, Lennon & McCartney and his own emotional composition, 'Tears for Esbjörn' written following the untimely death of Esbjörn Svensson. In the confines of the monastery this was a real 'hairs on the back of the neck' moment. One of the main joys of festivals such as Ystad is discovering new artists – often artists who have been around for years but who don't figure on the main European festivals and certainly not on UK festivals. Ystad has a modest budget so cannot afford the biggest names but what it lacks in big money US artists it more than makes up for by its programming of quality European artists.

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This year there were several excellent artists I had not seen before. The young Swedish flugelhorn player Oskar Stenmark (who lives and plays in New York) improvising on traditional Swedish folk tunes, German bass player Lisa Wulff (above) and her trio featuring the brilliant saxophonist Adrian Hanack. The Carsten Dahl Experience with Jesper Zeuthen (alto sax) who must have one of the most unique sounds around, his vibrato playing quite astonishing. The veteran Dutch pianist Louis van Dijk's solo performance (also in the Monastery) just oozed quality and class. The Greek trio, Magnanimus, were a revelation. Mixing Middle Eastern sounds created by Christos Barbas (who also played piano) on the Ney and Kaval (Arabic and Balkan flutes) with modern lyrical jazz and a little electronics to create something a little different and their CD, No Time, captures the music perfectly.

One of the highlights of the festival was undoubtedly Tommy Smith leading the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and featuring the singer Eddi Reader (below) playing the songs of Robert Burns. Fortunately the overwhelmingly Swedish audiences are mostly fluent English speakers so Reader's tales of Burns and the songs meanings (in her Glaswegian lilt) were fully understood which of course adds to the enjoyment of the music. Smith runs a very tight band and the arrangements were superb – 'Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, Ye Jacobites, Jamie Come Try Me', the slightly salty 'Brose & Butter' and a rousing and ever quicker and quicker 'Charlie is my Darling' left the audience breathless and giving Reader and the Orchestra a standing ovation.

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The festival sold more tickets this year than ever before (10,500) 18 concerts were sold out. The festival has minimal support from the state and some decent sponsorship (30%) ticket sales represent 30% of the total cost of the festival. Ystad relies on an army (or rather) a family of happy volunteers who control the venues, sell merchandise, provide the catering and generally look after the festival - this provides the other 30% of the cost and this is the Swedish way – Ystad has over 200 societies all run by volunteers. Before the final concert the festival's management committee came on stage and sang to the audience by way of a 'thank you' to the paying customers, by rights of course, it should have been the other way round.

While Sweden may not have the glorious weather of Juan Les Pins or Nice or the majesty of Umbria, it does have something almost more important; a heart and a soul and is probably one of the friendliest jazz festivals you can go to.

– Tim Dickeson (Story and Photos)

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