Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mads Tolling Quartet Feat. Jacob Fischer - Celebrating Svend Asmussen

CD front - Gateway Music (2016)
Later this month - the 28th of February - Danish jazz fiddler supreme Svend Asmussen can celebrate his 100th anniversary. On the occasion of this great day there has already been initiated several events to mark the centennial of the remarkable and world famous Danish jazz musician, a.o. a new book recollecting Asmussen's life and career was released in Denmark last year and a collection of poetry in English and Danish celebrating Svend Asmussen as a person written by his wife, Ellen Bick Asmussen, has also been published. Last year also presented the music of Svend Asmussen in a new constellation by the Mads Tolling Quartet feat. Jacob Fischer in a series of concerts around Denmark and Sweden. Now this ensemble has just released the above shown CD recorded October 2015 featuring some of the music presented at the concert tour appropriately titled Celebrating Svend Asmussen.
Mads Tolling (photo courtesy
Mads Tolling (b 1980) is an internationally renowned violinist and composer conducting a successful career worldwide. He grew up in Copenhagen and moved to the USA at age 20 to pursue jazz studies and graduated summa cum laude from Berkelee College of Music in 2003. While still attending Berklee, the renowned jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty recommended him to join Stanley Clarke’s band. Since then, Tolling has performed more than one hundred concerts with Clarke worldwide, including the Newport Jazz Festival. In 2007 Mads Tolling started his own trio and recorded the album Speed of Light. The following year the trio expanded to a quartet. With this quartet Mads Tolling released a live CD album in 2012 celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty, another CD
titled The Playmaker released in 2009 featured Stanley Clarke, Russell Ferrante and Stefon Harris. More about Mads Tolling's international career and recordings at the official website, here 

The Mads Tolling Quartet presented at the new CD has Mads Tolling playing violin in a repertoire of music known from Asmussen's own quartet live performances and recordings during the 1990s and 2000s. Besides Tolling this quartet has Scandinavian sidemen. Danish jazz guitar ace Jacob Fischer was a mainstay with Asmussen's quartet for 15 years and shares solo spots with Tolling, and they are accompanied by two very competent rhythm players, Kasper Tagel on double bass and Snorre Kirk on drums.
l-r: Kaper Tagel (b), Mads Tolling (v), Snorre Kirk (d), Jacob Fischer (g) (press photo)
There are eleven tracks at the new CD, four of them feature compositions by Asmussen - Take Off Blues, Hambo Om Bakfoten, Nadja and Scandinavian Shuffle. Also featued are two Gershwin tunes - Someone To Watch Over Me and I Got Rhythm, further two jazz standards in a duo performance by Tolling and Fischer - After You've Gone and Honeysuckle Rose. Two latin pieces are also presented - Piazzolla's Libertango and Jacob Fischer's Latino, and finally Asmussen's well known signature tune June Night

The arrangements of the featured tunes are excellent and so is the performance of the music, all members of the quartet contribute to the impression of a solid, swinging record.  The interplay between the musicians is great and well tested through several live performances at the time when the CD was recorded. Mads Tolling has the lead voice in all tracks and his touch at the violin resembles Asmussen's, a trained ear may also be able to trace other influences in Tolling's tone and approach, however, his versions of the featured tunes are great and leave plenty of space for his personal improvisation that gives renewed life and intensity to well-known tunes from Asmussen's book. It is hard to pick out highlights of the CD, all eleven tracks keep the attention of this listener at an intense level. Should I nevertheless point out a few highlights, then it must be the two duet recordings by Tolling and Fischer. Both men have ample opportunity to display their individual capacity as excellent improvisers and attentive musicians, especially the duo's version of Honeysuckle Rose marvels with inventive improvisation by both musicians. As mentioned, the rhythm section in the remaining tracks is competent and also gets solo spots a couple of times which generates a varied impression of the music when listening to the CD. 

- I highly recommend the CD as a splendid homage to the musical legacy of Svend Asmussen and not the least as an opportunity to celebrate his centennial while listening to the music.

The CD is released by Gateway Music and is available for purchase  here and here.

- If you are in Scandinavia this month, there are plenty of opportunities to attend a live performance by Mads Tolling Quartet featuring Jacob Fischer, a tour schedule is available at Tolling's website, here, or check out local media to keep updated on concert dates and locations.

To end this small review of the Quartet's celebration of Svend Asmussen, I'll insert a couple of uploaded videos of live performances from the quartet's concert tour in 2014. - Here is first a performance of It Don't Mean A Thing ...

Mads Tolling (v) and Jacob Fischer (g) - press photo
From another location, here is Tolling and Fischer's live duet performance of Honeysuckle Rose

Finally, here is the Quartet in a live performance of Asmussen's Scandinavian Shuffle


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