With three critically acclaimed albums under their belt, Swedish trombonist Karin Hammar’s Fab4 boasts international recognition from publications including Downbeat Magazine, over fifty thousand monthly listeners on Spotify and over ten million streams to date. Their upcoming record ‘Opening’, featuring Rita Marcotulli, is set to release on April 14th.
Karin Hammar is one of Sweden’s most in-demand freelance trombonists; she has been a bandleader for over twenty-five years, has co-led ‘The Sliding Hammers’ with her fellow trombonist and sister Mimmi Hammar, and has worked with international household names including Gary Burton and Maria Schneider.
Rita Marcotulli has been an important name of European jazz for over four decades, touring with giants including Pat Metheny, Chet Baker, Kenny Wheeler and Billy Cobham and winning several awards and prizes in the field of film music scoring.
‘Opening’ is like a slow lyrical dance based around a constant ostinato. Everything is placed and evolves in its own time. The trombone and piano lead on the melody with the guitar of Andreas Hourdakis adding a clean bright sound to the proceedings. It is good to hear Rita Marcotulli at the piano, it is also nice to hear the bass trombone with its deep rich tone adding colour to ‘Opening’. The second track, ‘Hook’, has a nice mid-tempo pace to it and has less space between the notes that gives it a sense of energy. I am not familiar with Karin Hammar but I do like how she sounds and with Marcotulli at the piano, and Andreas Hourdakis on guitar, this has a very good jazz sound with good bass lines from Niklas Fernqvist.
‘Apart’ has a European jazz style that I really like. Hourdakis comes to the fore in this one and I like the way that piano and trombone switch on the repeating phrasing. The use of variations in pitch, volume, timbre and tone are delightful to hear as this tune moves forward. ‘The Key’ has a staccato energy to the opening bars which does not get lost but is rounded out before returning again. There is a vibrancy in this tune that I found uplifting and the way the different instruments play off each other is terrific.
Marcotulli opens ‘Rest in Peace (and stay alive)’ before Hammar picks up the main theme. There is a reflective, modern hymnal quality about this tune that I found quite moving. A very good bass solo from Fernqvist but the drumming from Fredrik Rundqvist cannot go unmentioned: it is sublime and shows a delicacy of touch and a genuine feel for what the music portrays. ‘13’ has a steady lilting expression at the start but morphs into something more purposeful, more energetic but never frenetic. Marcotulli’s piano section, with bass and drums backing, is a joy – as is the trombone section from Hammar: a wonderful melody delivered with style.
The next number felt familiar in some way and I had to restart the track a number of times before deciding that it had the feel of musical theatre (Bernsteinesque?). This is the album’s standout track for me: the structure of it, the melody, the transitions between the leads, the musicianship; everything works so well and it all sounds so effortless. ‘Nadar com tartarugas’ is a wonderful composition, which the musicians breathe life into, each bringing their own unique voice to something written for them.
‘Moset/The Cleanse’ has a great punchy rhythm and an underlying phrase that is never too far away irrespective of where the melody goes. This is another very well played ensemble piece rich is tonal colour and texture. I like the call and response patterns, the touches of percussion that constantly change, the excellent bass lines, and that warm tone of trombone contrasting against the piano sections. The album finishes with ‘Prayer’ a track that blends the jazz styling of Europe with a classical music feel and produces something stirring, melodic, and beautifully phrased. This number is one of reflective calm, where space is allowed for the notes to linger momentarily before the next is played; all very nicely balanced.
This is the fourth album release from Karin Hammer’s Fab4 and, as far as I can tell, the first to feature a guest pianist. Rita Marcotulli fits well and plays her part as both soloist and accompanist superbly as the harmony and interplay move between the instruments. In the press release there is mention of “a contemplative ECM-esque tone” and while I can understand the sentiment behind that idea the voice and tone of this album is very much Karin Hammer’s. She is clearly a seasoned composer and effortlessly technical trombonist with both traits sitting comfortably in the spotlight. Her thoughtful quintet arrangements shift focus to different areas of the ensemble to create striking changes in mood and texture, which make for a rich and constantly rewarding listen.
Musicians: Rita Marcotulli – piano; Karin Hammar – trombone, bass trombone (track 1); Andreas Hourdakis – guitars; Niklas Fernqvist – double bass; Fredrik Rundqvist – drums, percussion.
Tracklist: 1. Opening 2. Hook. 3. Apart. 4. The Key. 5. Rest in Peace (and stay alive). 6. 13. 7. Nadar com tartarugas. 8. Moset/The Cleanse. 9. Prayer.
All compositions by Karin Hammer