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Review of "Peace" by The Sven Bjerstedt Trio

New from Sweden is Peace, a trio recording featuring three of the most experienced musicians of the Nordic jazz stage. The group is led by pianist Sven Bjerstedt, his first recording as a leader. He is supported by bassist Lasse Lundström and drummer Lennart Gruvstedt.

The roots of the group are steeped in swing and bebop traditions, yet they offer a personal sound that can only be achieved through empathy. Empathy is an essential element of peace and an empathetic heart is the key ingredient throughout Peace, making for a completely satisfying listening experience.

In addition to performing Horace Silver’s classic, the album’s title suggests what the project entails: Peace. The album is dedicated in loving memory of Åke Bjerstedt (1930–2013), in honor of his work with the International Peace Research Association.

Representing these admirable goals in sound is a 13-piece collection – reflecting the band’s intention – “capturing a microcosm of life, its conditions, and struggle towards peace.”

Heady stuff, but this is no New Age pablum. This is an honest attempt at presenting truth and beauty with grace and lyricism in the face of evil. From the opening piece, “April,” to its dénouement, “Do You Remember,” the project successfully accomplishes its mission with effortless mastery.

“April” sets the tone. The piece was composed by Tchaikovsky and taken from Seasons or Les Saisons, a set of twelve pieces for solo piano. Pianist Bjerstedt wades into its waters alone reading it as written before Lundström and Gruvstedt join in. The improvisational section is a jazz waltz, evoking the dynamics and interplay of the great Bill Evans trios. A delightful highlight.

Other standouts of this fine recording include, “When Your Lover Has Gone.” The song is of particular importance to local audiences. It was written by Einar Swan, who was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and raised in Worcester. A child prodigy who played nearly every instrument in symphony orchestra, Swan composed both the music and lyrics to this mournful tune. Frank Sinatra loved the song so much that when Swan died, the singer paid for his funeral arrangements.

Bjerstedt, a writer as well as musician, has written extensively on the life and times of this fascinating musician. See:

In his writing of “When Your Lover Has Gone,” Bjerstedt said, “It is a wonderful sad evergreen filled with mature melancholic yet dignified sentiment – qualities not quite commonplace in its genre.”

Opening and closing the piece with its verse, Bjerstedt and bassist Lundström (bowing) walk into the piece stately as if honoring a fallen comrade. It is an achingly beautiful tribute.

“I Love You,” not to be confused with the Cole Porter standard, was written by Harry Archer and Harlan Thompson and dates back to the 1920s. Like the Porter tune, it is a great vehicle for improvisation and the trio not only display their prowess, but also their profound understanding of the American Songbook.

Bjerstedt plays the standard “Body And Soul” solo. Set at a medium tempo foxtrot, the pianist delivers a stately and eloquent rendering that sings. It should be noted that the versatile Bjerstedt has worked as a jazz pianist since the early 1980s. In May, the pianist presents his PhD dissertation on storytelling in jazz improvisation at Lund University.

Peace offers a nice balance of covers and originals. The original pieces written by Bjerstedt include, “Starstruck,” “Baby, I Don’t Play,” and “Do You Remember?” All perfectly suitable material, which complements the overall character of the recording – not to mention the superb musicianship within.

The other covers include Jobim’s “If You Never Come To Me” (nice bass solo), Erroll Garner’s “Gaslight” (one of his first recorded pieces from his Pittsburgh days), Monk’s“Ask Me Now” (gorgeous), another Silver favorite, “Song for My Father”; and “Regntunga Skyar,” a song performed by Alice Babs and Adolf Jahr in the 1940 Swedish film, Swing it, Magistern! Composed by Thore Ehrling and Eskil Eckert-Lundin with lyrics by Hasse Ekman, the tune is a Swedish swing standard, that the trio – especially the drummer – revel in.

Peace is an extraordinary jazz document. It is a manifestation of the reach that this American artform has on the world-stage. With this recording, it is clear that the Sven Bjerstedt Trio completely understands that the music is a welcoming, democratic umbrella, whose inherent freedom principle is one that constantly strives towards peace.

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