Sten Sandell / Fred Lonberg-Holm / Michael Zerang Trio

April 17, 1998
Section Three
Critic’s Choice
by John Corbett

Given the hazy harmonies and snoozy rhythms of prominent artists like Matthew Shipp and Borah Bergman, “clear” and “precise” aren’t the first words that spring to mind in reference to improvised piano these days. But they absolutely describe the work of Sten Sandell, a ferociously inventive and exacting pianist from southern Sweden. Sandell’s extreme facility-his speed and dexterity, dead-on pitch sense, and total control of dynamics-expands his expressive options dramatically, as he has demonstrated on a series of rewarding solo recordings, including 1985’s Damp (Bauta), 1994’s Frames (Bauta), and the new Behind the Chords (LJ), his best yet. Sandell’s not a swing-based improviser-which makes his take on Thelonious Monk’s “Coming on the Hudson,” from Frames, particularly unusual-but instead uses squared-off pauses and sharp interjections to startling effect. He augments his work from both the keyboard and under the hood with deep-throated multiphonic singing (sometimes in stunning unison with the instrument), as well as harmonium, organ, E Bow, and sampler. He’s an active group improviser, too; he last appeared in Chicago in the free trio Gush (alongside reed player Mats Gustafsson and percussionist Raymond Strid), and over the last few years has forged several fruitful relationships with Chicagoans, including those he’ll appear with this weekend. Disarmingly versatile cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm played in another Gustafsson group with Sandell in Stockholm last October; Sandell and percussionist Michael Zerang have collaborated several times, cutting an as yet unreleased trio record with Gustafsson and appearing together in Stockholm as part of Gushcussion, an expanded version of the Swedish trio. The intricacies of this emerging joint history can only enhance what promises to be a highly interactive, timbrally rich evening of improvisation. Sunday, 6 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park; 708-383-8873. Sandell also joins Zerang and Jim Baker Wednesday at 8 PM at the Morseland, 1218 W. Morse; 773-743-5995.

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