Stefan Pasborg feat. UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra et al. Ritual Dances

Danish drummer/composer Stefan Pasborg grew up in a household of ballet dancers, allowing him to have an intimate relationship with their lifestyle and performances. One of his first formative musical experiences was witnessing a performance of Igor Stravinsky’s legendary ballet, The Rite of Spring, by The Danish Royal Ballet.

The experience embedded a love for Stravinsky’s work that has manifested in Pasborg’s new recording, Ritual Dances. Pasborg has been an important voice in the European jazz and improvised music scenes for the past two decades. His dynamic drumming and eclectic tastes have pushed him into collaborations with many stellar musicians, including Wadada Leo Smith, Tomasz Stańko, Miroslav Vitouš, amongst many others. Pasborg has also led a number of celebrated ensembles, the most notable being Ibrahim Electric.

Even though his compositions were seen as dangerously revolutionary when they premiered, Igor Stravinsky’s music has inspired listeners for generations. His many works have become part of the canon for many philharmonic orchestras but are still presented in more challenging programs. Stravinsky was a key figure in avant-garde symphonic writing, but it was his ballets, The Rite of Spring, The Firebird, and Petrushka, that solidified his legend.

The Rite of Spring and The Firebird were the two ballets that inspired Pasborg to reinterpret the Stravinsky’s work for a jazz big band. Ritual Dances takes music from these two works as a basis for Pasborg’s re-structuring. The pieces are heard performed by two large ensembles: the UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra on two live cuts and Blood Sweat Drum+Bass for the complete studio recording. The bands are augmented by a number of soloists and electronic musicians.

The program begins with UMO’s take of “Spring Round Dance,” a bombastic and grooving piece with winding Rhodes and aggressive horns. “Sacrificial Dance” introduces the Blood Sweat Drum+Bass ensemble with a marching cadence, which builds into a rocking ending with Jeppe Kjellberg’s wailing guitar. Mystery and intensity are intertwined on “Ritual Dance,” while Pasborg’s subtle drums lead into “Adoration of the Earth,” where Stravinsky’s famous theme can clearly be heard on Fredrik Lundin’s tenor sax.

Overdriven guitar ambience leads to the edgy, martial cadence of “Dances of the Young Girls;” swirling crescendos feature a brilliant Ståle Storlokken organ solo. Ethereal percussion provides an aural bed for Goran Kajfes’s trumpet on “Introduction,” while “Princess’ Game” borrows from The Firebird in an enticingly spastic jaunt. The slinky sound of “Infernal Dance” has a noirish tinge. The laconic “Tableau” features a warm and slightly western duet between tenor player Anders Banke and guitarist Kjellberg before launching into a challenging rhythmic workout. Blood Sweat revisit “Spring Round Dance” with Lundin’s sax singing over the infectious, churning rhythms. The recording concludes with UMO’s intense and episodic performance of “Dances of the Young Girls,” featuring standout performances by Seppo Kantonen and Jussi Kannaste.

Stefan Pasborg’s reinvention of Igor Stravinsky’s iconic works from The Rite of Spring and The Firebird are as brilliant as they are invigorating. Ritual Dances doesn’t rewrite Stravinsky so much as bring his work into the 21st century in bombastic style.

Publisher: Sunnyside Records, February 2022

Recording (UMO’s parts, G Livelab 2019): Yleisradio


Lineup of UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra 

Conductor: Ville Vannemaa

Soloists: Jussi Kannaste (sax), Seppo Kantonen (keys), Stefan Pasborg (drums)

Saxophones: Mikko Mäkinen, Teemu Salminen, Marko Portin, Max Zenger, Sampo Kasurinen.

Trumpets: Teemu Mattsson, Timo Paasonen, Tomi Nikku, Tero Saarti.

Trombones: Kasperi Sarikoski, Mikko Mustonen, Pekka Laukkanen, Mikael Långbacka.

Rhythm section: Mikael Myrskog (keys), Aarne Riikonen (percussion).