Four years after “Cantando”, a new album from the Bobo Stenson Trio – recorded in Lugano last December – explores a broad arc of material. Here we find: free playing (the trio has its own, fresh approach to collective improvising), tunes by Bill Evans (“Your Story”, offered here as a tribute to Paul Motian, for whom this tune was a favourite) and by George Russell (“Event VI” from “Living Time”, another piece associated with Evans), Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s “Oft Am I Glad”, a Norwegian hymn (in an arrangement by Anders Jormin and folk singer Sinikka Langeland), contemporary composition by Norway’s Ola Gjeilo, a Wolf Biermann protest song, Argentine composer Ariel Ramírez’s folkloric “La Peregrinación”, and more. Wide-ranging repertoire has become a hallmark of Bobo Stenson recordings. But it’s not just the eclecticism that is striking.
A pianist who has always given more attention to the shape of a melody than to the condition of his outward career, musicians' musician Bobo Stenson is suddenly ubiquitous. War Orphans finds Stenson, Anders Jormin and Jon Christensen in peak form as they rove freely through an intriguing repertoire that includes two Ornette Coleman tunes, Ellington's "Melancholia", a beautiful Cuban love song by Silvio Rodriguez, and original material by bassist Jormin and the leader.
Willie Bobo pulled an impressive lineup for his debut as a leader, due in part to a profile gained from his work with Cal Tjader and Herbie Mann. Leading the brass section in this midsized group is trumpeter Clark Terry, who lends the necessary grit and fire, while Joe Farrell's burring tenor gives the record dynamic range. Though Bobo's percussion kit is displayed on the front, it's occasionally difficult to appreciate his playing on the record; he sounds bored and in the background during a trio of Brazilian crossover numbers (this was the year of Jazz Samba, after all), leaving organist Frank Anderson to flare his way playfully through his own "Bossa Nova in Blue." Bobo does finally allow himself some solo space at the end of "Capers," after several minutes of brilliant interplay between brass and reeds. The highlight comes with the group's interpretation of Freddie Hubbard's "Crisis," a slow-burning hard bop number with Bobo's timbales shuffle framing more excellent sectioning, with Farrell's tenor and an unnamed trombone positioned in counterpoint to Terry's trumpet.