Review Summary: Some Swedish guy who digs melody...
Ulf Wakenius is concerned that modern music is losing its melody; it says so right in the liner notes of Notes From the Heart. In a way he is correct, modern classical music is far more focused on rhythmic and harmonic textures then melodic ones, and popular music really only swims around one hook. Sure Dave Holland, Jaga Jazzist and heck, even Andrew Bird might have a thing or two to say otherwise, but for all intents and purposes lets just go with Mr. Wakenius on this. The talented jazz guitarist’s solution to this melodic challenge was to re-work a selection of famed jazz pianist Keith Jarrett’s compositions. Arranging a pianists work is probably right up Wakenius’ alley, after all he was a member of the Oscar Peterson Quartet. Joining him on the album are his buddies Lars Denielsson on Bass, Cello and Piano and Morten Lund on the kit. If melody is what Wakenius was after, he certainly scored a decisive victory. Notes From the Heart is incredibly interwoven with layered melodies and counter-melodies, which create a relaxing and enjoyable tapestry that you can either chill out to, or pick apart from a technical aspect.
The opener, “Memories of Tomorrow”, lets the listener know exactly what to expect from the album, right off the bat. The slow ballad is incredibly pretty and relaxing with melodies that are both complex and approachable. The technical prowess of Wakenius makes every line, every chord and every run smooth and polished, which is exactly what is needed in an album like this. The album is chock full of slow burning vistas like “Memories of Tomorrow”. “Innocence”, “My Song” or one of the few piano centered pieces, “Mon Coeur Est Rouge” are all examples of the slow and meditative pieces that populate much of the album. “Mon Coeur Est Rouge” is of particular note, as it is an absolutely gorgeous piece of music. It is one of those pieces that just takes you away to another place in your head, where the outside world stops for a moment as you immerse yourself on the heart breaking interplay between the piano and the guitar. To keep things from becoming too slow, Wakenius sprinkles a few upbeat, funky tracks that have an almost Calypso pulse to them. “Dancing” revolves around Spanish guitar like runs, and “The Windup” bounces along with a joyous bass.
These three musicians, it goes without saying, are all incredibly talented. The drumming of Morten Lund is traditional and simple, but very accurate, and the bass, cello and piano playing of Lars Danielsson knows how to bring the flash when it is asked to step out onto center stage. Still, the obvious star of the album is Ulf Wakenius and his clean electric guitar. His graceful runs and passionately playing lifts Notes From the Heart from being simply a good jazz record to a great one. Using the traditional approach of soloing over a set chord progression, Wakenius allows for a more accessible album overall. This is ultimately what is necessary for this type of album, as it is not meant to be overly challenging, but instead relaxing. However, the technical skill of the players involved do allow for a certain complexity to it, especially in the way the multiple melodies interact with one another. This is what drives tracks, such as the longer cut “So Tender”, and keeps them interesting. Less competent players would have turned this low key album of melody into a dull snooze-fest.
At the end of the day, Ulf Wakenius’ Notes From the Heart accomplishes its main goal. To inject melody back into modern music. Whether you agree with his sentiment that it was lost in the first place, you can’t possibly disagree that this album is stuffed to the brim with it. Almost every second of every piece is geared towards progressing the central melody. I highly recommend to any jazz fan in particular, but to anyone interested in listening to a very talented guitarist. Don’t expect him to shred your ears off like John McLaughlin, but rather be ready for him to lull you into submission. This is one of the better albums of the last little while and should definitely be looked into.