Used to be that whenever the term "Scandinavian jazz" would come up, one could summarize it by pointing to the sterile, pristine folk-jazz popularized by Jan Garbarek and the ECM label from the seventies on. In recent times, it's come to mean such a variety of styles and tendencies that the jazz scene there has become every bit as complex and nuanced as it is on American shores. Nowadays it can also mean the Nu Jazz of Bugge Wesseltoft, the indie leanings of the late Esbjörn Svensson or the anything-goes whack jazz of the Scorch Trio.
What they mostly share is a deft assimilation of American, Nordic and Continental influences that's typically both sophisticated and at or near the cutting-edge.
Danish-born, Swedish resident guitarist Torben Waldorff has been opening up another facet for Scandinavian jazz, one that finds as much in common with the current NYC jazz scene as it does with the jazz of his locality. While Waldorff cites many American blues and rock guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix as his main influences early on, he's since forged his own stamp on modern jazz while still retaining an appropriate smidgen of his old inspirations.
These days, though, he's more apt to approximate Kurt Rosenwinkel, the guitarist who Waldorff comes closest to in terms of melodic construction and guitar tone. Which is to say, it's pretty advanced stuff.
This past spring, Waldorff put out the latest volume of his brand of modern jazz that's the followup to his widely-acclaimed Brilliance: Live at 55 Bar NYC from 2006. He calls this latest one Afterburn.
For Afterburn, Waldorff carries over his tenor saxophonist, bassist and drummer from Brilliance: Donny McCaslin, Matt Clohesy and Jon Wikan, respectively. For piano, Fender Rhodes and organ he also adds a top-shelf player in Sam Yahel.
Utilizing a method famously employed by Miles Davis, Waldorff laid out the basic melody and general direction to his bandmates but left it up to them to fill in the details. In doing so, he induced what he calls "beautiful mistakes." Of course, the mistakes are only beautiful as long as listeners don't notice these unscripted turns as mistakes.
What is noticed instead are the tightly-constructed compositions mostly written by Waldorff performed with some of the spontaneity of a jam session. It's almost like having it both ways. And that's where the real magic in these recordings lay. Songs do stretch out a bit, but never overly so. No one seems to be overly concerned about coming to the song, they're letting the song come to them.
Furthermore, there's a distinctive, highly melodic pulse throughout the recordings and it's centered on the intense chemistry between Waldorff and McCaslin. As fellow students at the Berklee College of Music back in the 1980s, their rapport is beyond telepathic at this point. The closeness of this musical partnership really reveals itself on tunes like the uptempo "Squealfish" penned by Joel Miller, which has some remarkable unison lines that seem to go every place imaginable except outside the underlying melody.