Festival Review: Ystad Jazz Festival Sweden

Written by | Festivals, News, Reviews

Ystad is a small town in southern Sweden. The picturesque old town with its small houses and old churches became known worldwide, thanks in large part to the writer Henning Mankell, who set his detective Wallander novels there. The bank where a robbery took place and the equally notorious ferry port have made this town of 30,000 inhabitants in Skåne famous.

However, for the past 14 years, Ystad has also been the venue for a prestigious jazz festival. On the first weekend in August, national and international stars gather for this event. Pianist Jan Lundgren, as the artistic director, has curated 27 concerts over four days with his team. The festival has some unique venues: emerging artists perform at Hos Morten Café, a Danish café courtyard known for its wonderful Smørrebrød. Other concerts take place in the market halls, the Mariakirche, the Klosterkirche with its wonderful acoustics, the Spa-Hotel Saltsjöbad directly on the Baltic Sea beach, and the main part of the concerts are held in the old neoclassical theater from 1894.

The festival started with a benefit concert for Ukraine by the Blue Light Jazzband and featured the Sisters in Jazz. Rhoda Scott, an 85-year-old Hammond organ player, may be a bit unsteady on her feet, but when she sits barefoot at her instrument (left foot on the bass pedal, right on the volume pedal), age becomes just a number. Alongside her longtime drummer Julie Saury and Polish vibraphonist and glass harp player Izabella Effenberg, she played American standards and her own compositions.

Female power was a common thread throughout the festival program after the female presence took a back seat the previous year. The traditional parade, held in bright sunshine, was led by Angela Strandberg, who also served as the festival’s trumpeter. On the first day of the festival at 10 pm, jazz music was played from the tower of the Mariakirche in all four directions.

Prior to that, in the theater, the first major highlight of the festival was the Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek, who enthralled the audience with his quartet. The audience was promised a two-hour concert, and together with longtime collaborators Trilok Gurtu on various percussion instruments, Rainer Brüninghaus on keys, and the newer collaborator Yuri Daniel on electric bass, Garbarek played his imaginary folk melodies with compelling tone.

Trilok Gurtu | Photo by Harri Paavolainen

Pianist (and singer) Grégory Privat delivered a quieter, more intimate and impressive solo concert. The musician from Martinique demonstrated his storytelling skills and clever use of the looper effect for his vocals during his late-night performance.

Elaria Orchestra is a big band that is relatively unknown outside of Sweden. Pianist Erika Hammarberg and flutist Lina Lövstrand, both women, not only assembled a brilliant big band with equal male and female representation but also composed magical music for their orchestra. One of the pianist’s compositions, describing the evening mood at her summer house, left a lasting impression.

Blue Note Artist Bill Charlap showed that the Great American Songbook still offers many possibilities for arrangements and interpretations, leaving the audience breathless with his piano runs. Gypsy Jazz guitar was heard in the Klosterkirche, where guitarist Gustav Lundgren, accompanied by two French friends, played music from the Django Reinhardt era.

Kyle-Eastwood | Photo by Markus Fagersten

The concert by Kyle Eastwood was associated with eras and dynasties. Clint Eastwood’s son has been a skilled and prominent jazz bassist for many years, often working with film music material. From “A Fistful of Dollars” to “Gran Torino,” for which he collaborated with his father on the music, and a unique rendition of “The Pink Panther” as an encore, he delighted the audience.

Every year, there is a Carte Blanche, and this time, drummer Pelle “Trazan” Jonasson put together his Dreamband. Musicians with decades of experience, including John Goldsby, Joanna Pascale, Olaf Polziehn, and Johan Hörlén, assembled their program through lengthy rehearsals.

The festival’s closing act, which also featured jam sessions with Sven Erik Lundeqvist, was the festival’s artistic director, Jan Lundgren, with his trio consisting of Mattias Svensson and drummer Zoltán Csörsz. The band had invited singer Deborah Brown, who quickly shed her uncomfortable shoes – a nod to the barefoot opening concert with Rhoda Scott. Well-arranged and interpreted standards proved to be a wonderful addition to every jazz festival.

In summary, the 2023 Ystad Sweden Jazz Festival was a resounding success, featuring standout performances by Marcin Wasilewski, Grégory Privat, and Vincent Peirani.

Last modified: September 6, 2023