European jazz star in Norwich

Rob Garratt One of the biggest stars of European jazz is playing at The Forum this weekend. ROB GARRATT spoke to pianist Bobo Stenson.

Rob Garratt

Bo Gustav Stenson has been playing with some of the world's greatest musicians for decades. Born in Sweden in 1944, he is widely regarded as the best jazz pianist to ever come out of the country.

His career started early. A move to Stockholm in 1966 saw him perform extensively with the best local musicians, as well as a host of American visitors and expats. The biggest visiting name he played with in his youth was the renowned saxophonist Sonny Rollins.

“That was wonderful but it was on just one occasion,” he said. “It was a comeback for him - he had a tooth operation and came back with a new tooth! It was my first trio at the time and playing with him was a great experience.

“He was a very nice man to meet. I met him again last year when he won the Polar Music Prize - he was in Stockholm and we had dinner and it was lovely.”

Longer associations with American stars were formed with Stan Getz in 1968, who he toured Africa with in 1968, and Jan Garbarek, who he made a string of classic albums with in the mid 1970s.

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Since then he has built a reputation collaborating with other Scandinavian greats including Terje Rypdal, Arild Anderson and Jon Christensen, developing a folk-influenced jazz and his own lyrical, poetic style.

Looking back on his long and distinguished career, Stenson is spoilt for choose when it comes to picking a highlight.

“I have played with a lot of brilliant musicians. I played with Charles Lloyd for 11 years, and I have to say this is a highlight. And the quartet I played in the '70s was definitely a highlight too. I have played with a lot of people, great people like Don Cherry.”

But Stenson seems as happy with the work he is doing with his trio now as any of his past achievements. His new album forms the base of the set we can expect at The Forum on Sunday , but we can also look forward to some stratospheric improvisations.

“We'll be playing the music from our latest album, called Cantando, and other pieces, it's a mixture of tunes that we normally do - some classics, some originals, some Orenette Coleman… just like how it is on the new record.

“It's music that we like, we have something, and we made something, and if we like it and if it fits with the way we are playing without disrupting the originality too much - that's what we're looking for.

“We're an improvising group - we use material and go out from there. Some material we stick to more, and some we have more freedom - there's not so much to say!

“Sometimes we decide on how to start, say in a dark register or something, sometimes we decide almost nothing. It's better that way of course - you don't want to do the same thing year and year again. So we say this time maybe the bass starts with the drums but we don't have to say even that, because it becomes automatic. It's exciting to play like this.”

Cantando is the Bobo Stenson Trio's second album. Following the release of the last, 2005's Goodbye, he was awarded the European Jazz Prize as Musician of the Year in 2006.

Unlike all European musicians, his sound is intrinsically linked to his Swedish heritage.

“Generally we talk about the Nordic sound - I think the Scandinavian or Northern players have a little more freedom to mix different cultures and put different elements into the jazz language.

“We are not as bound to the tradition as Americans are - that's there folk music. We still use the American jazz language as the base, but when we play we are a little more free to loosen it up. That could be the difference.

“We also play in different climates and different cultures which must have an influence on the music. There's such difference in temperaments between the south and the north of Europe, and it reflects on the music I think.”

His last gig in the city was at the Playhouse in May 2007, and his appearance on Sunday is just one of six he is making in the UK this year.

“I remember the city - I don't remember where I played! Normally it's got a good quality piano - this kind of thing is very important.

It has to be set up in a good way, and you never know - some of the pianos I play in Sweden have ups and downs! I I'm looking forward to playing in Norwich again very much, I really enjoy it there.”

All in all, Stenson is a man very happy with his lot. Asked which late jazz greats he would have liked to play with, he laughs hysterically. “John Coltrane! No, I am happy with what I have done. I have played with wonderful drummers and players that I like very much.

“I don't wish for anything. I am happy that people want to listen to what we do and we can go on playing, that really means something.”

t Bobo Stenson will be appearing at The Forum on Sunday, with doors opening at 7.15pm. For tickets, priced at £16 with concessions £14, call the Theatre Royal ticket line on 01603 630000.