Marvellous Masekela hits amid the kicks at Ystad Sweden International Jazz Festival

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Best known as the location for TV series Wallander, Ystad also hosts what’s become one of the best jazz festivals in Scandinavia. The event was conceived by pianist Jan Lundgren (artistic director) and Thomas Lantz (president) after a chance meeting on a train travelling to Ystad. Now in its seventh edition, this year’s happening boasts 44 shows at 11 venues around the town, with major concerts being held at the lovely Ystad Theatre, constructed in 1894 and seating 400. 

Highlights at this venue were: Mare Nostrum II featuring Paolo Fresu (trumpet) Richard Galliano (accordion) and festival artistic director Jan Lundgren (piano), playing music from their second ACT album; Joe Lovano accompanied by the Bohuslan Big Band and Hugh Masekela brought his Playing at Work band, featuring the excellent Cameron Ward (guitar) and Johan Mthethwa (keyboards). Masekela seems to be really enjoying his music at the moment. Here with his full band he was clearly having a ball. The warmth and energy he brings to his shows together with the sheer quality of the material is magical. He was brought back for a wonderful encore and left to a standing ovation from the sold out theatre.

More adventurous music was to be found at the Klosterkyrkan – a 12th century monastery. The first concert there was a collaboration between Fresu (trumpet, flugelhorn), Daniele Bonaventura (bandoneon) and multi-instrumentalists Mare Balticum, a quartet specialising in early medieval Nordic music and songs. Mare Balticum were using selected instruments from the European Music Archaeology Projects (EMAP) touring exhibition Archaeomusica which is on display here until January 2017. Fresu’s spine-tingling trumpet was the perfect accompaniment to this quite solemn and sacred music and fitted perfectly with the haunting vocals of guests Ute Goedecke and Aino Lund Lavoipierre.

One of many outstanding concerts of the festival came at the same venue the following evening – a solo piano recital from German pianist Joachim Khun. His playing is so intense that it’s impossible not to get swept up in his music – fierce crashing chords or a delicate run of notes that give a brief respite before the next explosion. The best moment for me was undoubtedly his melding of a tricky and complicated Ornette Coleman tune into The Doors’ ‘The End’ – a real master at work!

A couple of nights later at the same site came another stunning concert – this time featuring Michael Woolny (piano) and Heinz Sauer (sax). The Art of the Duo is their take on classic tunes and their own compositions. They’ve played together as a pair for over 10 years now, so the level of understanding and telepathy between them is astonishing. Woolny’s playing is mostly very lyrical, while Sauer slices through almost at right angles to him, neither barely offering any clues as to what they are playing and when the merest hint comes in the form of a few notes from the melody, it sounded simply amazing – ‘Nothing Compares to You’, and ‘So What’ were breathtaking.

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The UK was well represented at the festival with Martin Taylor playing duo guitar with Ulf Wakenius and Zara McFarlane who was the featured singer with Swiss harmonica player Gregoire Maret’s band. Anita Wardellwas brought in at the last minute for Bob Dorough, who was unable to travel. Wardell, being a bit of a Dorough fan, did a sterling job singing his songs and giving insightful information about them.

There were two collaboration concerts between Norwegian and Polish artists at the Ystad Art Museum featuring concerts by the Helge Lien Trio, featuring the quite brilliant violinist Adam Baldych, and then Jacob Young (guitar) and Trygve Seim (sax) playing with the Marcin Wasilewski Trio.

There are two very picturesque outdoor venues in Ystad, both very old and with masses of character. The Hos Morten Café, a 17th century half-timbered building with a cobbled courtyard and Per Helsas Gard, a beautiful square surrounded by craft and coffee shops, both dotted with hollyhocks, which seem to grow just about anywhere here in Ystad.

One of the concerts at the latter space celebrated the 100th birthday of Danish violinist Sven Asmussen. Asmussen has played with all the greats in his long career, including the likes of Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Josephine Baker, Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and Stephane Grappelli. Halfway through the first number and to everyone’s amazement Asmusssen himself appeared from the audience to take his place in front of the stage. The musicians playing the tribute concert had all played with him in the past and it was a touching moment.

Closing the festival in the theatre was a majestic performance from Avishai Cohen and his new trio featuring Omri Mor (piano) and Daniel Dor (drums). Cohen was in brilliant form and his new band are great finds (this was only their third live gig) together.

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It was a fitting end to a festival in a picturesque setting (Ystad has miles of sandy beaches, with lots of places to stay making it an ideal place for the jazz tourist). It comes highly recommended.

– Story and Photos by Tim Dickeson