Photo: Irene Pelayo
Sweden’s APUH! brings Scandinavian improvisational jazz to Barking Legs
Sweden’s most prominent musical exports have come in the form of pop music, including that from international stars ABBA, Roxette, and Ace of Base and critic’s darlings The Knife and Jens Lekman, and Sweden is also a notable base for death metal, with groups such as Opeth, At the Gates, and In Flames.
However, what is lesser-known is the history of Swedish jazz, which emerged in jazz clubs in the first half of the 20th century, and stays by legendary saxophonist Albert Ayler in the early ‘60s and trumpeter Don Cherry in the late ‘60s, helped to bring the spirit of American avant-garde jazz to the country, leading to current proponents including hard-blowing saxophonist Mats Gustafsson in the worlds of free jazz and improvised music.
One exuberant, up-and-coming Swedish free jazz outfit is APUH! featuring members Adrian Åsling Sellius on saxophones and clarinets, percussionist Hampus Öhman-Frölund, and Mats Dimming on double bass, and this spring, they are touring the U.S. for the first time. Öhman-Frölund answered some questions for The Pulse, in advance of the group’s March 25 performance at Barking Legs Theater.
The Pulse: Your improvisations have covered topics including “imaginary animals” and “missed funerals.” Do all three of you start with the same idea in mind before playing an improvisation?
Hampus Öhman-Frölund: “Hoppaloppa,” “Göteborg havs” and “En Snigels Liv” from our latest release TVÅ are all improvisations based on a word or a phrase that someone came up with in the studio. Nothing more than that was planned by us all together. “Ivansviten” has more of a set structure and a written riff, but is totally improvised within the frames of that structure. It was first played when we were on tour in Germany, while one of our relatives back in Sweden was saying goodbye to life on earth.
TP: Do you have a favorite concert?
HÖ: We’ve had a few concerts where the atmosphere has been pretty intense. We played in a tiny café in Kiel, Germany, a couple of years ago. Everybody was listening carefully, someone was meditating and someone was knitting. When we stopped playing no one understood that the concert was over. Not even us. It’s hard to describe, but it was like stepping into a film by Swedish director Roy Andersson.
TP: Many people might not know that Sweden has a healthy and free jazz scene. How do you fit into the scene, and how would you describe it?
HÖ: There’s definitely stuff going on in the Swedish free jazz/improvised scene. At the same time, the opportunities for bands like us to play are mostly made by ambitious individuals with a D.I.Y. way of thinking. People that arrange concerts with their own bands, friends’ bands and other bands they like are very important for the scene. APUH! has always been a D.I.Y. kind of band, and we’re trying to be a part of making the experimental scene grow as much as we can.
TP: How did you get started playing free jazz?
HÖ: We all come from different musical backgrounds, but our ways into the improvising world are fairly similar. Adrian was playing a lot of standard jazz and started drifting to more collective improvisation from that. I was mostly playing in big bands and rock bands, and Mats was playing in a classical orchestra. You could say that we all wanted to explore what was beyond our normal habitat and challenge ourselves both as performers and as listeners.
TP: Do you use any improvisational methods?
HÖ: Sometimes we work with some kind of concept, sometimes we improvise from a set form, but the general idea with APUH! is to clear our minds and see where that takes us. We trust each other, sort of.
TP: What do you want an audience to get from your music? What is “good” improvisational music to you?
HÖ: The point with us improvising in front of an audience is to include the listener in our world. If someone walks home from an APUH! concert and can’t put his or her finger on what really happened, then we’re happy.
We don’t want people to walk home thinking that we’re good at our instruments. Good improvised music appears when the musicians and the audience become one with the room. That requires a lot from the performers, but also the listeners. Good improvised music comes from your body and soul, not from your brain.
CoPAC and the Shaking Ray Levi Society present: APUH!
Friday, 8 p.m.
Barking Legs Theater
1307 Dodds Ave.