September 2004

Bob Barnard & the Swedish Jazz Kings - A Tribute to Young Louis
Opus 3 CD 22013
Released: 2004

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Tiny Island
Opus 3 CD 19824
Released: 2004

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment *****

by John Crossett

Opus 3 describes itself as "…an independent Swedish record company dedicated to recording timeless music such as classical, jazz, blues, folk, and world music." A Tribute to Young Louis, by Bob Barnard & The Swedish Jazz Kings, epitomizes the phrase "timeless music." Dedicated to the great Louis Armstrong, this album takes the listener on a musical journey through the jazz of the late 1920s, when Armstrong reigned supreme. So pervasive was his influence that, even today, over 75 years later, he continues to cast a dominating shadow over jazz.

Four of the tracks on this disc are Armstrong originals, "You’re Next," "My Heart," "Wild Man Blues," and "Sunset Café Stomp." Another, "Two Deuces," was written by Armstrong’s wife, Lil Harden. And a third, "Ory’s Creole Trombone," is by Armstrong’s bandmate, Kid Ory. All the remaining numbers are songs that Armstrong may have played during his heyday. All the selections bring the flavor of old-time New Orleans to our modern sensibilities.

The sonics on A Tribute To Young Louis are as up to date as possible. Opus 3, using Sony’s new Direct Stream Digital process, has transferred this old-style music to SACD, which allows it to bloom fully. You get a wide, somewhat deep soundstage, populated by real, live musicians, each in his own interactive acoustic envelope. This lets the unique sonic signature of each instrument to fully develop and fill your listening room with glorious sound. Armstrong could only dream of getting his music recorded in such quality.

If you happen to be a fan of Opus 3 recording artist Eric Bibb, you already have a nodding acquaintance with many of the members of Tiny Island. They’ve all played on one or another of Bibb’s Opus 3 efforts, but usually only in a blues vein. Tiny Island is Goran Wennerbrant on various guitars and mandolin, Nick Malmestrom on guitars, 10-string mandola and bouzouki, Janne Petersson on piano, accordion, organ, pump organ and kalimba, Olle Eriksson on bass, 10-string mandola and bouzouki, and Bjorn Gideonsson on percussion, with guest assistance from Johan Hedin on nyckelharp (Swedish key fiddle) and Ahmet (Haci) Tekbilek on kavala and ney flute.

The band's debut allows these musicians to stretch out well beyond the blues they’ve played with Bibb, into diverse styles, creating a music that defies categorization while remaining completely accessible. You’ll find there is no wrong time to play this disc -- if you’re sad, it’ll pick you up; happy, it’ll keep you smiling; weary, it’ll allow you to concentrate only as hard as you wish but will reward your extended concentration with its superb musicality. Pick a mood or feeling, and Tiny Island will produce music to fit it.

The audiophile goal of acoustic instruments recorded in real space is fully realized on Tiny Island, which could be the poster child for that ideal. Notes bloom, from initial transient to the last echo of harmonics decaying into the recording acoustic. The better the resolving power of your system, the more enjoyment you’ll receive from this album. You can follow any instrumental line as far as you’d care to, or you can sit back and enjoy the group interplay.

You can find much to enjoy on the Red Book layer of these discs, but to gain a full appreciation for them you’ll want to hear the SACD layer, either in stereo or, preferably, in multichannel. Listening to the multichannel layer, even on a modest hi-rez system, will allow you into the music in a way that stereo simply can’t match.

These discs offer music that’s well out of the mainstream. In the case of The Swedish Jazz Kings, it’s both a remembrance and a tribute to the music of Louis Armstrong. Regarding Tiny Island, it’s music that refuses to be pigeonholed, while still fitting any mood, time or location. And while I will highly recommend both, it’s Tiny Island that I’ll bet will be the hardest to put away.