Why do we like crime shows so much if not for the sense of danger, the menace and tension? It’s probably because of this same feeling of danger, that anything can happen, bitter excess as well as unexpected sweetness and light, that I appreciate free jazz. For its intensity, tight as a fist, a rage ready to burst at any moment, for its tension that keeps the musicians on the edge. And when this violence is unleashed, it’s as much that storm as the breaking of the tension that makes the whole thing so jubilant, even liberating.
There’s a bit of these mechanics at work on the splendid second album from the Swedish sextet of Anna Högberg. It’s a pity that the tenor sax player Malin Wättring has left the band since the first one in 2016, as it was until then all-female, which gave it a very special edge. But with the arrival of trumpet player Niklas Barnö, who was also a member of Mats Gustaffson’s Fire! Orchestra (in which Ms. Högberg took part as well), the sextet came out ahead and broadened its palette.
The start is a bit brutal: a furious salvo of alto saxophone from the leader, followed by a chaotic brass band, leading to a theme reminiscent of Albert Ayler. “Tjuv”, the longest piece, with a theme reminiscent of Mingus, allows the band to celebrate its roots as much as its distinct personalities, and the roaring brass have soul to spare. In the freest passages, there’s a purity, depth, and fiery spirit that’s so full of life that you’d think it’s amazing that white people – Scandinavians to boot! – manage to perpetuate this black legacy so well.
And when the last track is over, one quickly feels like starting over again. Beware! This stuff has an exhilarating power that can be addictive.