fri 14/08/2020

CD: Nils Landgren – Christmas With My Friends IV | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Nils Landgren – Christmas With My Friends IV

CD: Nils Landgren – Christmas With My Friends IV

An open Swedish mind and well-tuned ear creates a Christmas soundtrack of sumptuous eclecticism

Something for even the widest social circles

Swedish trombonist and bandleader Nils Landgren has been creating eclectic Christmas compilations for nearly ten years now, and has, in the popular jazz market at least, created a successful niche, selling “jazz platinum” in Germany, where the ACT label is based. His success is due to a generous, open-minded approach to repertoire that first surprises with its apparent incongruity, then seduces with its class.

When did you last hear George Michael, Duke Ellington, John Rutter, Odetta and traditional carols performed on the same album, all with sincerity and integrity? It’s perhaps a particularly European approach, effective where musical genre has a less entrenched class identity. For all the elegance and beauty of soprano Jeanette Köhn’s version of the traditional German carol “Maria durch ein Dornwald ging”, the mere fact she shares house room with George Michael’s “Last Christmas” will have her vetoed from many a playlist. And vice versa.

The variety really works. Some of the carols, sung in a mixture of Swedish, German and English, are performed classically, while others, such as “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “O helga natt” (Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night”) have a folky twang, which makes a refreshing change for a British audience used to schoolboy trebles. There’s prodigious instrumental colour in the arrangements, too. Johan Norberg plays kantele (a variety of zither), which prickles likes pine needles. His solo on his own composition “Icicles” is a miniature gem of wintry scene-painting. Landgren’s trombone, meanwhile, which pops up in all kinds of unexpected places, has a most unusual delicacy.

Any satisfying Christmas spread requires some cheese, however, which is where “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, “What A Wonderful World” and “Last Christmas” fit in. The blurb claims these arrangements are “not sentimentalised and kitschy”. That’s perhaps stretching credulity, but both arrangements are spare and subtle, with, for example, a sparkling guitar accompaniment on “What A Wonderful World” that reduces its typically cloying qualities. Most of our Christmas traditions were imported from Germany. Time to do the same with our music.

When did you last hear George Michael, Duke Ellington, John Rutter, Odetta and traditional carols performed on the same album?

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