HAIRS RAISED on the nape of the neck, here. Why? Well, the sound of Danish saxophonist Andreas Toftemark and his quartet, on new release A New York Flight, is summoning memories of those revelatory early years of musical discovery in bars and halls – the formative experiences of live jazz that are indelibly printed on heart and mind.
Toftemark moved to New York some four or five years ago, studying with Joel Frahm and Ben Wendel, while also learning fast by playing in the heat of its vibrant, yet famously tough jazz scene alongside names such as Peter Bernstein and Ethan Iverson. 2020, a year like no other, saw him return to Denmark, soon establishing a band with his colleagues Calle Brickman (piano), Felix Mosehol (bass) and Andreas Svendsen (drums). For this studio recording, selecting two originals alongside four reinterpretations, Toftemark has crafted a set which captivated on its first hearing, his confident, rounded tenor tone sometimes reminiscent of Scott Hamilton. Significantly, he absolutely achieves that important ‘one foot in the past’ aim of honouring jazz heritage in a way that is just as relevant for our time; and the balmy, romantic thread of these roomy performances (averaging seven minutes apiece) is balanced by both a breeziness and episodes of invigorating sparkle.
The initial, wistful ‘look back’ of the leader’s title-track opener – described in the sleeve notes as ‘a bridge from the New York that was to the near future of the Danish jazz scene’ – soon snaps into a crackling groove which presents the individual merits of each player. Able to create space for detail, they also collectively punch out substantial waves of excitement, Calle Brickman’s rolling piano phrases leading to Toftemark’s gradual pathway towards a potentially limitless torrent of tenor improvisation. Cryptically explained as ‘a row of numbers that seem to follow Andreas in love and friendships’, his gladsome, streetwalking 2223 ramps up into blistering full-on swing – certainly a feel-good gem amongst gems.
Count Basie classic, Blue and Sentimental, is transported oh so elegantly from its 1930s beginnings into an ease-back blues brimming with delectable, acciaccatura piano phrasing, while Toftemark’s measured explorations pay homage to that golden era of jazz; and the assured rhythms of Mosehol and Svendsen are beautifully controlled. From a decade earlier, Donaldson/Kahn’s Love Me or Leave Me (recorded by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone et al) feels at home in instrumental guise as the quartet navigate its push-pull metre before cruising to the leader’s extemporisations – and even when he bows out midway, the remaining piano-trio display, incorporating fine piano and drum soloing, is similarly engaging.
The Big Apple is evidently dear to Toftemark, his dusky, heart-on-sleeve interpretation of enduring Autumn in New York seemingly glinting in the afterglow. Focusing on each cadence, his cool delivery of this Vernon Duke evergreen (originally written with a longing for the city) is consistently a joy, supported by lucent touches from his attentive personnel – and it’s easy, too, to imagine a rapt audience in the shadows of the bandstand. To close, romantic I’m a Fool to Want You (Jack Wolf, Joel Herron, Frank Sinatra) is treated to a lush arrangement which finds light amongst the original’s lovelorn torment, gently swinging to bewitching tenor and piano spotlights.
Aside from the overriding pleasure of these 43 minutes, the intriguing takeaway is what might yet be in the pipeline from the relatively young Andreas Toftemark and, indeed, his friends on this recording. As fine, contemporary interpreters of the tradition, and with that glimpse of the saxophonist’s compositional prowess, the stage seems well and truly set.
Released on 11 June 2021, A New York Flight is available in CD, vinyl and digital formats at Bandcamp.
Andreas Toftemark tenor saxophone
Calle Brickman piano
Felix Mosehol bass
Andreas Svendsen drums
April Records – APR086CD / APR086LP (2021)