Nils Petter Molvaer lights up Ystad Festival with magical dawn chorus

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For this year's Ystad jazz festival the spotlight was on vocalists, as Cécile McLorin Salvant wove her magic in the Arena, which, sadly, can be a rather soulless place. She won over the crowd with a succession of brilliant interpretations of 'Wives & Lovers', 'If A Girl Isn't Pretty', 'Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before', her own song 'The Fog', and a great version of 'Wild Women Don't Have the Blues'. One of the best female vocalists around at the moment, the standing ovation she received at the end was thoroughly deserved.

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Youn Sun Nah also had a strong show with an eclectic mix of material featuring Korean folk songs, Tom Waits, and Jimi Hendrix covers. Her version of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', sung almost unaccompanied, was stunning, with her emphasis on the words of the verses rather than the chorus bringing a totally different feel to the song.

There were also shows by Claire Martin, featuring songs from her latest Wes Montgomery album, Trudy Kerr, and an impressive set from Lizz Wright (above). Newcomer Ellen Andrea Wang (below) was a revelation, reminding me very much of a young Esperanza Spalding. The bass player/vocalist has a strong set of songs and a great band including drummer Erland Dahlen.

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For the male vocalists the best by a mile was Andreas Schaerer & A Novel of Anomaly. The band featuring Luciano Biondi (accordion), Kalle Kalima (guitar) and Lucas Niggli (drums) were all superb – Schaerer's voice skills are incredible and his writing top class.

Alongside the vocalists, other instrumental shows featured trumpeter Avishai Cohen who played with the Bohuslän big band; German drummer Wolfgang Haffner with the brilliant vibes player Chrisopher Dell; Phronesis, who had two phenomenal shows in the Art Gallery and Monty Alexander, who told us at the end of his sparkling late show that he had suffered a stroke only a few days earlier.

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However, the biggest event of the festival was at 5.20am on the last day, which was a 35-minute drive from Ystad and brings you to Ales Stenar, an ancient collection of 59 stone boulders in the shape of a long boat. The stones are located on the top of a headland with panoramic views of the Baltic Sea one way and the almost flat landscape of southern Sweden the other. At 5am although the sun has not yet risen it is perfectly light. A short distance from the stone ship a small stage has been set up with a seat, a table and a sheet of Plexiglas to protect the microphone from the wind that blows gently across the headland from the sea.

Renowned Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer was sat on the edge of the stage doing his warm up exercises; the sky behind him turning pink. The crowd numbered around 550 people (this was a ticketed event) some in deck chairs, some laying out on the grass looking skywards, others sitting with their backs against the stones observing the stage – there were no fences or guards here.

At 5.18am Molvaer took to the stage with a a wash of sounds emerging from his laptop. A dawn chorus of effects and electronics and then he starts to blow – long low notes, coupled with a few higher shriller ones almost coaxing the sun to appear. Within moments the orange ball appears on the horizon to his right behind the stones and the whole scene was bathed in the golden light of dawn.

Molvaer's playing became more insistent and more forceful as the sun lit the entire scene, throwing long shadows of stones, spectators and the trumpeter across the grass and towards the sea. The concert lasted around 50 minutes –slightly disturbed by a squall that passed over in minutes, yet Molvaer never stopped playing and no one moved an inch. This was a truly magical moment – one that you had to be there to become fully immersed in.

Ystad is a fantastic festival of Jazz that works hard pushing the boundaries to attract younger audiences, but without loosing its core fans. Next year will be the 10th anniversary and artistic director Jan Lundgren is already promising great and innovative things – the dates will be 31 July to 4 August – so get it in your diary.

Story and photos by Tim Dickeson