Per Henrik Wallin & Sven-Åke Johansson

Umlaut UMLÅDA 1

By Ken Waxman

One of those players who was famous” in his home country, but little known outside it, Swedish pianist Per Henrik Wallin (1946- 2005) was an unalloyed soloist whose various bands in the ‘70s and ‘80s marked the transition from freebop to freer sounds. Karlsborg-born, Wallin, who ran away from home at 15 to hear Bud Powell play at Stockholm’s Golden Circle club, always maintained a fondness for swing, stride and melody besides freer impulses. He also lived long enough to move from playing with fellow experimenters of his generation like bassist Torbjorn Hultcrantz and saxophonist Lars-Göran Ulander to younger stylists like trumpeter Magnus Broo and reedist Fredrik Ljungkvist.

As this memorable four-CD set demonstrates however, some of Wallin’s best, and certainly his best-known, playing was done in the company of fellow Swede Sven-Åke Johansson, born in1943 in Mariestad. By the mid-‘60s however, Johansson had moved to Berlin where he was in a vital, part of ensembles led by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, pianist Alexander Van Schlippenbach among others. Also over the years Johansson’s creativity has taken on more sardonic and theatrical trappings. As this box-set, with tracks from 1974, 1986 and 2004 demonstrates, the multi-rhythmic drummer also expresses himself playing faux-schmaltzy accordion as well as singing. Together Wallin and Johansson came across as a free jazz version of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis or a musical counterpoint to Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour franchise. One sticks to the musical business at hand, while the other ricochets all over the place with jokey references as he plays. Still Johansson’s rhythmic skill allows the tracks to flow organically even as he burlesques the music.

In fact, a comparison of the tracks on CD1, Sista Valsen i Norrköping from 2004 and CD2, Quartier Latin f.d. Biograf from 1974 and ’75 shows very little variation in Johansson’s playing. Volcanic and un-self conscious using his whole kits to highlight thumps, drags and rolls, 30 years later he manages to sound like a man nosily falling down the stairs while still holding on to the beat. Wallin does sound different however. During the elaboration of the two tracks he and the drummer recorded with Canadian bassist Joe Williamson in the 21st Century, his playing is still as alternately tough and lyrical as it was years before. However the snatches of jazz and American song book classics that sometime peppered his solos in the 20th century have been replaced by inferences. Thus in his limpid and lightly decorated treatment of “En Vals” and “Sigge Fürst” while pinpointed Monkish key clipping or fluid Bud Powell-like kineticism is present as he jangles across the keys, it’s not emulation but stylistic internalization he’s expressing. Meantime the drummer’s command of stentorian whaps is tempered with scrubs and rubs across his drum tops, plus drum stick scratches across cymbal top. Younger than the others by several decades Williamson’s powerful strokes keeps the time on an even keel.

Back in the mid-‘70s, Wallin’s dynamic soloing more directly jumped from suggestions of Powell’s facility, Herbie Hancock’s modalism and Cecil Taylor’s dynamism. A track such as “Roxy” for instance, includes an interlude of almost unbroken staccato emphasis: free playing at near-warp speed. With vigorous smacks from his snares and cymbals, Johansson adds to the layered friction only to be buried under a cascade of tremolo piano notes. Although the drummer’s strategy then encompassed quasi-military beats and thundering ruffs – flashbacks from Brötzmann gigs perhaps – the pianist’s brooding and sombre timbres were often used to cool down the interchange.

A more playful and balanced partnership is exhibited on the seven 1986 tracks, which make up Magnetiska Hundar I and II, originally issued on LP by FMP. Especially instructive are “The Moon Says Good Night” and “The Moon Continued”, really one extended 27-minute performance. Before the drummer, who can be imagined sporting a pencil-thin mustache and smoking jacket sing-speaks the English recitation, that turn of events had been implied when his café-styled accordion slurs are partnered with Wallin’s pseudo cocktail piano styling. Earlier however these cabaret styling was preceded by an earlier piano-drums duet that sounds half Monk and Roy Haynes and half James P. Johnson and Eddie Dougherty. In contrapuntal response to Johansson’s initial opposite sticking and paradiddles, the pianist then slides in references to “Round Midnight” played at three times its usual speed, until the two compromise on a format that is both chromatic and swinging. With honky-tonk-like tremolos evoked from the piano, the drummer switches to light syncopation, before uncasing the accordion. The climax brings back the drums for rim shots, while Wallin uses his sustain pedal to percussively reverberate his conclusion.

This combination of commiseration and confrontation continues with exciting results through the remainder of the tracks. Should Johansson decide on a syrupy, squeeze box backed recitation of the enigmatic ditty “The Eel”, then Wallin provides sympathetic accompaniment; should the pianist’s bravura output move from echoing Monk to emulating Art Tatum, with clinks escalating to note cascades, the drummer accelerates his strategy from subtle rolls to hitting all parts of his kit; and should Wallin’s sparse chording suddenly turn impressionistically flowery, then brutal drum beats are replaced by staccato glissandi for sonic extensions and connections.

At 68 Johansson is still very much active, turning out discs with younger experimenters like guitarist Annette Krebs and trumpeter Axel Dörner. With Wallin no longer here, 1974-2004 is not only a record of the drummer’s inventiveness over a protracted period, but documents more memorable playing from a pianist who didn’t record enough.

Tracks: CD 1: Sista Valsen i Norrköping: 1. En Vals* 2. Sigge Fürst* CD 2: Quartier Latin f.d. Biograf: 1. Biograf 2. Roxy 3. Saga 4. Teaterbio CD 3: Magnetiska Hundar I: 1. The Moon Says Good Night 2. The Moon Continued 3. Ungmön.... (die Eule) CD 4: Magnetiska Hundar II: 1. The Eel 2. Get Hap 3. The Swinging Policeman 4. Romans

Personnel: Per Henrik Wallin: piano; Joe Williamson: bass*; Sven-Åke Johansson: piano; drums, voice, trumpet, accordion

—For New York City Jazz Record August 2012