In an insightful recent interview in the London Jazz News, Swedish multi-instrumentalist and veteran big band trumpeter Håkan Nyqvist offered insight into how and why he began playing French Horn. His chosen instrument’s unique timbre sound is at the heart of his seven-piece horn driven ensemble Horncraft, whose fresh and exciting debut album Inside Looking Out offers sensitive and soulful ballads, dynamically swinging and grooving excursions, spirited and freewheeling big band steeped arrangements and imaginative, explosive soloing by its handpicked members – including fellow French horn player Eva-Tea Lundberg and the leader’s son, Eric Palmberg, on trumpet and flugelhorn.
When he was a kid, Nyqvist’s father told him to play violin and as a teenager in school he took up trumpet. Later when he moved to Stockholm to study music, a teacher told him he had a better chance to get into the music college if he played the French horn. He immediately loved its sound and quickly hooked up with a teacher from the Stockholm Philharmonic. He studied with him two years, then was accepted into the Royal College of Music. While his trumpet stills were always in demand for commercial big bands – most notably including the German/multi-national James Last Orchestra – early in his career he played both trumpet and French horn as a substitute in the Airforce band and Swedish Radio Jazz Group, the latter of which gave him the opportunity to play with Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Gil Evans, George Russel and Kenny Wheeler.
The concept behind Horncraft – which also features top Swedish musicians Örjan Hultén (tenor and soprano sax), Sven Berggrén (trombone), Torbjörn Gulz (piano), Filip Augustson (bass) and Henrik Jäderberg (drums) – is simply to lead an ensemble that features the French horn in a jazz setting. The concept is based on a previous jazz group (also called Horncraft) he started over 25 years ago with three other French horn players (who he played with in the orchestra for the musical Cats), a saxophonist and a rhythm section. They performed sporadically for ten years and released an album in 2002 called Horncraft.
From the bright, bustling lead single “New View,” which features a soaring horn arrangement, a sizzling trumpet solo and lively piano and soprano sax improvisations, to the coolly strutting finale featuring one of Nyqvist’s most creative and imaginative solos, the eight tracks of Inside Looking Out artfully fulfills the leader’s vision to write and perform music that is interesting to improvise over, features the band’s brilliant players at the peak of their crafts and organically builds the presence of the French horn in a jazz setting. Where possible, Nyqvist’s plan is to use the project as a tool to provide opportunities for live performances.
Rhythmically and harmonically, one of the most engaging aspects of Inside Looking Out is the clever mood swings happening from track to track to make us listeners feel we’re being taken on a special, brass-fired jazz journey. For instance, Horncraft follows the punchy, percussive romp “Passwords,” so full of kinetic movement in the groove and horn arrangement, with vibrant horn and piano solos to boot, with a lush, melancholy soprano sax driven take on John Coltrane’s classic ballad “Naima.” The same dynamic happens later when the group precedes the plaintive, lyrical expression “I’ve Seen” with the hustle and bustle of the perfectly titled, playfully swinging “Abundance” and adventurous, quick witted title track, whose ample solo action includes an otherworldly improvisation by Örjan Hultén’s soprano.
The name of the band and album title both speak to Nyqvist’s overall intention as well. He chose Horncraft (two decades ago and now) because of the double meaning of craft – a vessel for transport and handicraft, or trade. Inside Looking Out is based on a lovely picture of a three year old boy looking at the sea through a panoramic window. Nyqvist couldn’t help but wonder what goes on in his mind as he ponders what may be out there. His music likewise lays the foundation for great possibilities, always reflecting his feeling of having something meaningful inside that he longs to share with others.