I’m a sucker for a good piano player, and Bobo Stenson is a fantastic pianist. He has a way of traveling the keys that is accomplished and professional without being too slick or too in line with how everyone else plays. Stenson has a truly poetic style of playing, something that seems rare nowadays. He plays in a free, abstract way, but his music never sounds chaotic or amorphous.
There is, however, much more to the Bobo Stenson Trio than just Bobo’s fabulous piano playing, namely Anders Jormin on double-bass and Jon Christensen on drums. Both players are immense talents; together the three form an even more immense entity, making music that is jazz but doesn’t fall into the conventions of the genre; they use their instruments to evoke feelings and create moods instead of following habits and methods of the past.
Serenity is a two-disc, 80-plus minute work that draws from places all over the musical map, including not only the musicians’ own improvisational compositions but also works by composer Charles Ives, jazz legend Wayne Shorter and Cuban folk-pop songwriter Silvio Rodriguez, and two versions of a folk tune from Stenson’s native country, Sweden. The Bobo Stenson Trio work with all sorts of music, yet they approach all of it through the filter of their own unique style, one which is relatively slow and quiet but never anything less than awe-inspiring. It’s hard to listen and pick up on the styles of the original pieces; one can’t immediately peg the folk tune as a folk tune or the classical piece as a classical piece. All of the music is approached by the trio in the same way; they take these pieces with a sense of freedom, and play them in a way that is fresh and fruitful.
The entire collection has an atmosphere of fervent creativity. Take for example, the series of tracks on disc one titled “West Print”, “North Print”, and so on. Each one features one of the musicians boldly experimenting on his instrument. Throughout the two discs, each player gets a chance to showcase his own instrument, not only on the “Print” tracks but on portions of many of the others. Yet the trio has a clear voice of its own, a way of playing together that is unique. The naturalness with which they play together is evident throughout. Stenson and Christiansen particularly have played together for many years, starting in 1969.
Though the title Serenity comes from the Charles Ives composition which the trio covers, it serves perfectly as a description of the album. This is peaceful, 100% beautiful music. It is gentle and serene, yet not in the sense of being boring or mundane in any way. This is lively, innovative music played by talented musicians, two of which have been in the business of making music for a long time. Their experience and creativity come together for a truly lovely album, a real delight.