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Bobo Stenson

Sweden's Bobo Stenson is one of the most well-regarded jazz pianists/composers in Western Europe. His playing style is at once lyrical and inquisitive, impressionistic and sensitive, harmonically adventurous, and spatially vast. Stenson established himself during the 1960s as one of Europe's finest accompanists for American expats and visiting luminaries alike, including Red Mitchell, Dexter Gordon, Gary Burton, Sonny Rollins, and Stan Getz. 1971's Underwear (with bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Christensen) for ECM, began an ongoing collaboration that produced six albums. Christensen also joined Stenson for Jan Garbarek in the '70s and Charles Lloyd in the '80s and '90s. He won the Grammy for 1993's Reflections. 1998's War Orphans earned global acclaim, while Serenity, Christensen's final outing with the trio, charted. Following 2005's Goodbye with Paul Motian, Jon Fält became a permanent member starting with 2008's Cantando. The exploratory Indicum followed in 2012 and Contra la Indecisión arrived six years later. The trio returned to recording with 2023's Sphere. Bo Gustav Stenson was born in Västerås, Sweden. He grew up in an exceptionally musical household. His father played piano, his mother the violin. His two brothers and sister studied drums, trombone, and cello, respectively. Though he began playing piano at age five, he began studies with German-born composer/conductor/pianist Werner Wolf Glaser at age eight; Glaser taught and mentored the young musician for 15 years. Under Glaser's tutelage, Stenson became interested in jazz thanks to the radio. His teacher encouraged him to pursue it. No matter how deeply the young pianist engaged with jazz, however, he never abandoned classical music and continued to practice JS Bach's compositions. While in high school, Stenson met renowned tenor saxophonist Borje Fredriksson and was asked to join his band (which also included bassist Palle Danielsson). Stenson passed a university acceptance exam in Paris in the early '60s and found himself surrounded by American and European musicians. He studied by day and each night performed in the city's many clubs. In 1964, he set off on tour with the Gunter Hampel Quartet, backing vocalist Inge Brandenburg. Stenson made his recorded debut with her on 1965's It's Alright with Me. A year later, he returned to the Börje Fredriksson Quartet for Intervall from Columbia. In 1968, Stenson returned to Stockholm and met American bassist Red Mitchell, subsequently joining his quartet (drummer Rune Carlsson was also a member) and recording 1969's One Long String for Mercury. The album's warm reception earned Stenson notice from other jazzmen and he was hired for gigs with Dexter Gordon, Toots Thielemans, and others. When 1970 dawned, Stenson toured Africa as a member of Stan Getz's band. Upon returning, he began playing gigs with visiting musicians including vocalist Sheila Jordan and saxophonist Sonny Rollins. 1971 was a crucial year in Stenson's artistic life. He officially formed the Bobo Stenson Trio with Christensen and bassist Anders Jormin -- they had all played together in various forms since the mid-'60s. They signed with Munich's fledgling ECM label and released their debut album Underwear. That same year, the pianist played on two other seminal dates for the label: Guitarist Terje Rypdal's eponymous debut and Jan Garbarek's Sart. Further, as a member of the Swedish Radio Jazz Orchestra, he appeared on George Russell's live Listen to the Silence (released in 1973). He also formed the all-Swedish jazz side project Rena Rama with bassist Danielsson, Lennart Åberg (saxophone, flute), and Bengt Berger (drums). Their 1973 debut offering, Jazz I Sverige, appeared from the Caprice label. Rena Rama wed folk music and jazz, gathering tunes from Eastern Europe to the African continent. Over the remainder of the '70s and into the '80s, they became one of the most important Swedish jazz bands around. Two years later, Stenson and Garbarek co-led the 1973 Witchi-Tai-To sessions with Danielsson and Christensen. The album charted across Europe and made inroads with American college students. The group followed with Dansere in 1975 and it, too, charted. In 1977, Rena Rama released Landscapes for ECM's JAPO imprint. The album won critical acclaim across Europe and Asia, and the group was able to play live across the continent. They returned to Caprice for 1979's Inside – Outside. Rena Rama became the most influential jazz/world fusion group in Sweden. Live appeared in 1983, New Album in 1986, and Rena Rama with Marilyn Mazur in 1989. Along with his role in Rena Rama, Stenson began to focus intently on his piano trio and solo work. He issued the unaccompanied standards set The Sounds Around the House for Caprice in 1983 then followed with the trio date Very Early on Dragon in 1987. In 1989, the Bobo Stenson Trio backed saxophonist Charles Lloyd on his ECM debut Fish Out of Water. Stenson and Jormin continued working with the American musician on four subsequent albums (with drummer Billy Hart) including Notes from Big Sur (1993), All My Relations (1994), Canto (1996), and Voice in the Night (1999). Even as he worked with Lloyd, the Bobo Stenson Trio continued to record and tour. 1993's Reflections was one of ECM's most lauded recordings and topped many critics' year-end lists. 1995's universally acclaimed War Orphans proved a high-water mark in the group's tenure and is still regarded by many as their finest offering. Recorded in 1998, the trio's Serenity proved Christensen's final recording with the trio; he left the group after the support tour. Stenson recorded two albums for the Mirrors label employing different ensembles, as well as a self-titled duet album with saxophonist Lennart Aberg in 2002 for Amigo. He returned to work with his trio for 2005's Goodbye on ECM. The latter set featured guest drummer Paul Motian. Stenson and Palle Danielsson co-led a band on 2007's Miles by Five for Touche Records. In 2007, Jon Fält became the Stenson trio's permanent drummer. He made his first recorded appearance with the band on 2008's Cantando. After global touring and downtime, Indicum followed in 2012. The 12-track set included works by Bill Evans, George Russell, classical composer Carl Nielsen, and contemporary sacred music, free group improv, and traditional hymns. While the trio toured, they were absent from the recording studio for five years. They re-emerged with Contra La Indecisión. Recorded in May 2017 at Lugano's Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI with producer Manfred Eicher, it appeared in May 2018. The album's title track, composed by Silvio Rodríguez, was one of four "covers" on the date. Others included Bartók's adaptation of a Slovak folk song, a piece from Mompou's Cançons I Danses collection, and Erik Satie's Elégie. These were strategically placed among Stenson's and bassist Anders Jormin's compositions and a pair of group improvisations. The trio released Sphere in February 2023. The eight-track album was recorded in Italy with producer Manfred Eicher. It included compositions and arrangements by Jormin as well as readings of modernist classical writing by Per Nørgård, Jean Sibelius, and Sven-Erik Bäck.
© Thom Jurek /TiVo


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