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ACT Records With 4 Wheel Drive

by Howard Lawes



In pop music a super-group, a new grouping of musicians who have previously excelled either in solo careers or as members of other groups, is quite rare since musicians changing to a new group often presages the break-up of another.  In jazz however musicians are rather more peripatetic and typically play in several bands without any repercussions.

The musicians playing on the album 4 Wheel Drive - from Sweden: Nils Landgren (trombone and vocals) and Lars Danielsson (bass and cello), from Germany: Michael Wollny (piano), and Wolfgang Haffner (drums)  - have certainly all had illustrious careers, and in some cases have participated in previous super-groups (Michael Wollny was involved in Out Of Land  with  Emile Parisien, Vincent Peirani and Andreas Schaerer; Lars Danilelsson joined with Tigran Hamasyan, Magnus Öström, Arve Henriksen and John Parricelli ‎on Liberetto).


Lars Danielsson playing on the video album trailer for Liberetto.




In fact, three of the four have played together quite a lot as in 2002 when Sentimental Journey  featured Landgren, Danielsson and Haffner with Anders Widmark on piano while Eternal Beauty featured Landgren, Wollny and Danielsson with Johan Norberg on guitar and  Rasmus Kihlberg on drums - so perhaps the term 'super-group' is not entirely appropriate. All of these albums were released on the ACT label.

In 2003, Landgren (vocal and trombone), Danielsson (bass) and Haffner (percussion) played together in this videod version of James Taylor's Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight at Jazz Baltica with Esbjörn Svensson (piano) Pat Metheny (guitar) and Michael Brecker (tenor sax).





4 Wheel Drive is also released by ACT records, a company founded in 1992 by ex Warner International executive Siggi Loch. The Siggi Lochcompany has gone on to release more than 350 albums.  Quoting Siggi Loch, ACT records has been a project providing  “music for people with open ears and an open mind”.  

ACT have long had a policy of facilitating new groupings of musicians from their stable and 4 Wheel Drive is surely a result of this policy, and with artists such as  Nguyên Lê, Esbjörn Svensson, Nils Landgren, Michael Wollny, Viktoria Tolstoy, Lars Danielsson, Wolfgang Haffner and Youn Sun Nah there have been many "magic moments" from musicians introduced to each other by Loch.  Loch describes the success of his label as playing a major part in the process by which  European jazz became a major force in the world of music, and testament to this is the fact that ACT has been voted 'Jazz Label of the Year' at the German ECHO Awards in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.


Siegfried 'Siggi' Loch


Early on, a critically acclaimed ACT success was the jazz symphony of Europeana which combines the rich tradition of European music with the language of jazz. This 1995 release was written by the English composer and arranger Michael Gibbs and won the annual German Record Critics’ Award. The album featured Joachim Kühn, Jean-François Jenny-Clark, Jon Christensen, Django Bates, Klaus Doldinger, Richard Galliano, Christof Lauer, Albert Mangelsdorff and Markus Stockhausen – the cream of contemporary European improvised music, and was accompanied by the Hannover NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra. 


But one of Siggi Loch's greatest successes must surely be the Esbjörn Svensson Trio or EST as they came to be known. Svensson was the keyboard player in Nils Landgren's band Funk Unit and EST went on to record Live in Hamburg which became a modern milestone and was chosen as the best jazz album of the decade by the London Times in 2009.  EST regularly topped pop as well as jazz album sales charts and became the first band from Europe to make the front cover of the illustrious US jazz journal Downbeat.  ACT's greatest commercial success was Bugge Wesseltoft’s It’s Snowing On My Piano, an album of traditional Christmas songs played on solo piano, which perhaps highlights another part of the ACT business model which is to release music which while intellectual, is accessible to a wide audience.


Listen to EST with Where We Used To Live from the Live In Hamburg album.






4 Wheel Drive


The 4 Wheel Drive album is firmly in the 'accessible' category with eight tracks of compositions originally by Phil Collins, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Sting, most of which feature vocals by Nils Landgren. There are also four tracks of 'new' jazz, one composed by each of the four musicians in the band, hence the title of the album. 

Nils Landgren is well known both for his red trombone and his vocals, which feature often in his band Funk Unit, and he is undeniably popular both in his native Sweden and in the wider world. His voice is rather tender and he often mixes the vocals with trombone; the versions of Billy Joel songs with Michael Wollny on piano, She's Always A Woman and Just The Way You Are, are particularly well interpreted.

The other songs are Another Day In Paradise, Shadows In The Rain, Maybe I'm Amazed and If You Love Somebody Set Them Free, while Lady Madonna and That's All are played as a jazz instrumentals on trombone and piano without a vocal, and with both Landgren and Wollny improvising. 


4 Wheel Drive


The new jazz compositions are all too short, Polygon by Michael Wollny is a lively, rocking number which just takes off and flies and Lobito by Wolfgang Haffner is a lovely samba style piece. Le Chat Sur Toit (The Cat On The Roof) by Nils Landgren seems to be telling a story in which the normal routine as represented by melodic ensemble playing is suddenly shattered by Haffner's trombone solo, but after this interjection runs its course, life returns to normal and 4WD by Lars Danielsson is a great up-tempo piece which you just wish had gone on for longer. It is good news that we shall be able to hear more from Lars Danielsson when he comes with his group to the 2019 EFG London Jazz Festival.



Here is a brief video introduction to the album.






Throughout the album the standard of musicianship and ensemble playing is, as one would expect from such experienced and accomplished musicians, excellent. 

Although some jazz purists may be put off by so many cover versions of modern popular songs this album is definitely worth a listen - musicians of this quality can quite frankly turn their hand to anything and make it sound great! 

4 Wheel Drive album


Click here for details of the album and samples of the tracks.

Further details are on the ACT site - click here.



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