This year it was
the Elin Larsson Group, a quintet of young Swedish musicians, none of whom I’d heard of previously. With the Scandinavian jazz scene in such rude health I thought they looked interesting and decided to take a punt. I was glad I did as saxophonist Larsson and her band delivered a set full of intriguing compositions and expert musicianship.

Joining the young leader were trombonist Kristian Persson, guitarist Henrik Hallberg, double bassist Niklas Wennstrom and drummer Johan Kack. This is the line up that recorded the album “Live And Alive” at Stockholm’s famous Jazzclub Fasching, a venue that incidentally also hosts contemporary British bands such as Polar Bear and the Kit Downes Trio.

In a programme comprised entirely of Larsson originals the quintet played a selection of pieces from the album (recorded in 2009) plus a number of newer pieces. They opened with “Waiting In Vain”, also the first cut on the album, immediately grabbing the attention with the stunning opening interplay between Persson’s trombone and Larsson’s soprano. Other highlights included Larsson’s mercurial soprano solo above Hallberg’s shadowy guitar chording and the dramatic duet between trombone and drums. These youngsters can certainly play and they deployed their technique in a series of engaging and adventurous compositions. This was only their second UK gig following a festival appearance earlier in the week at Edinburgh but they were clearly brimming with confidence with Larsson an assured interlocutor with excellent English.

“Dark Skies” was a more atmospheric item, a reflection of Nordic melancholy with Larsson switching to tenor. This was more about mood and texture with brooding tenor, spidery guitar and gloomily resonant solo bass on a feature for Wennstrom. However in a composition of widely varying dynamics the storm suggested in the title erupted in a climactic squall from the two horns before the tune concluded with a mournfully peaceful coda.

“The Secret” saw Larsson remain on tenor for another richly textured, multi- hued composition introduced by solo bass and featuring a solo from Persson, making use of the mute on his trombone.  He was followed by the thoughtful, undemonstrative Hallberg on guitar and finally Larsson on tenor sax.

Introduced by Wennstrom’s double bass the new tune “Liner Board” included features for Persson and Larsson. The saxophonist is an inventive and sometimes powerful player. She can blow the hell out of a saxophone if she really puts her mind to it but the quality of her writing ensures that there is plenty of room for subtlety too.

There was plenty of subtlety evident in “Moment In The Sun” which opened with an exquisite three way dialogue between guitar, soprano sax and trombone before opening out with solos coming from Hallberg on guitar and Persson on trombone, probably his best of the set.

“Falling Into Pieces” was another example of the melancholic side of Larsson’s musical personality, a kind of minor key march with brooding tenor sax floating above Kack’s snare drum tattoo. Once again the interplay between tenor and trombone was outstanding, as was the intensity of Larsson’s playing as the tune gathered momentum and really took flight.

The set closed on an upbeat note with the groove heavy “Mornington” which commemorated a less than successful group engagement at one of Stockholm’s most expensive hotels. The ELG were just too loud and confrontational for the well heeled crowd and a hotel management that was looking for something rather closer to smooth jazz. No such problems in Brecon where a discerning jazz audience responded enthusiastically to ELG’s spiky but always entertaining music. “Mornington” included solos from Persson on trombone and Hallberg on guitar, the axeman mixing choppy rock and blues influenced chording with jazzier single note lines. Finally came Larsson, blowing lusty tenor above Wennstrom’s big, fat bass grooves.

ELG have been together for five years and although, in true jazz fashion, the members are also involved in a host of other projects, this is nonetheless a regular working group and it shows. There is a real musical chemistry between the five musicians and an assuredness that comes from sustained and regular gigging. The interaction between Larsson and Persson is exceptional and the flexible and intelligent rhythm team accompany them with aplomb. Expect to hear a lot more from these talented young Scandinavians as they reach out towards the international stage.” 4/5