Bebop and Beyond
by Armand Lewis
While modern jazz originated in the United States during the mid 1940s, it quickly spread around the world and by the 1950s, there were jazz modernists in most industrialized countries, including Japan and much of Europe. Britain, France and Germany had vibrant, active modern jazz communities, but the heaviest European concentration of early jazz modernists was in Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden.
By the early ’50s Sweden could boast of having a number of world class jazz musicians. Alto saxophonist Arne Domnerus, pianist Bengt Hallberg, trumpeter Rolf Ericson and others would have truly international careers that would often last longer than their American counterparts. And thanks to licensing exchanges between European and American record companies, many of their Swedish recordings would be released here in the early ‘50s, becoming as familiar to U.S. jazz audiences as the American players were.
This “Swedish Invasion” included baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin. After starting out on piano, Gullin first made his mark on alto saxophone before switching to baritone around 1949. His main influence at the time was the U.S. baritone sax master Gerry Mulligan. Gullin would develop his own sound which, while still as cool as Mulligan’s, had a light tone and an even more fluid approach. Gullin’s early recordings, mostly post-war EP sessions done for the Swedish Metronome label, would be widely distributed in America on 10” LPs from the Prestige, Contemporary and Emarcy labels.
As Gullin’s fame spread among musicians, American stars traveling in Europe would often seek him out for recording dates, including Zoot Sims, Clifford Brown, Lee Konitz, and most significantly, Chet Baker. It was Baker who described Gullin as having “a very melodic and liquid way of moving through the changes.”
Gullin would continue to record throughout the 1950s and early 1960s for both established record companies as well as one-off sessions and privately made recordings. Sonorama has released some of these previously unheard tapes as The Liquid Moves of Lars Gullin (Sonorama L-94). The album features the baritone saxophonist along with a number of prominent European and visiting American jazz stars, including Barney Wilen, Flavio Ambrosetti, Dexter Gordon and Sahib Shihab.
While he excelled in smaller groups, Gullin seems to have preferred to record with larger groups. As such, the LP is weighted towards septets and octets, starting with the Gullin original “Bluesport.” Though not credited, the large group arrangement is reminiscent of Gil Evans, providing a full rich sound and featuring effective solos by all involved specifically Gullin and guitarist Rune Gustafsson.
The Flavio Ambrosetti original “Out of Bush” features a different septet, which includes Ambrosetti (who also produced this particular session) along with French tenor saxophone legend Barney Wilen and pianist George Gruntz.
Cole Porter’s “I Love You” and “The Flight” feature American legends Dexter Gordon on tenor sax and Sahib Shihab on flute. These two tunes were recorded at the Monmartre Cafe, which Dexter Gordon had made his home base in Copenhagen after recently emigrating from the U.S.
Finally, “Ablution” (from yet another session) showcases Gullin in a smaller group playing in a “West Coast”/Gerry Mulligan style with alto saxophonist Rolf Billberg sounding like he’s filling in for American altoist Bud Shank.
Each of the four recording sessions included on this LP contribute only one or two tracks, which leaves one wondering if there was anything else recorded on those dates that should have (or could have) been included here. Given the talent assembled and the cost of setting up sessions like this, it’s very likely that there were additional compositions recorded, but no mention is made in the liner notes of additional material or a future release. Hopefully, Sonorama will release a second volume of this neglected and now somewhat forgotten baritone master.
Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org