There are many things I miss about the Rochester International Jazz Festival which, like just about everything live, was cancelled this past summer. High among them is the chance to hear adventurous Scandinavian jazz artists who are almost always new to me. That’s one of the reasons it felt good to discover guitarist Mathias Sandberg’s superb debut album, “The Doctor.”
Sandberg grew up in Finland, and after a brief stint at Berklee College of Music in Boston, he returned to his homeland and formed a band. The group, Dr. Sandberg’s Soul Clinic, didn’t last long — but Sandberg is still known as “The Doctor.” Let’s put all the medical puns aside except to say what is undeniably true: Sandberg operates with great precision and dexterity with his Ibanez electric guitar.
When he solos on tunes such as “Too Bad” or “Breakfast Blues,” his fingers just fly over the fretboard. But he’s more than a speed demon; his tone is gorgeous throughout. And on every track, Sandberg employs just the right mix of rhythm and lead guitar. It doesn’t hurt that his trio — with Zacharias Holmkvist on bass and Stefan Brokvist on drums — is as tight as it gets.
Sandberg wrote seven of the album’s eight tunes, and they are unfailingly original. “Not Yet” has roots in a blues progression, but it’s such a fresh take on the genre, the connection isn’t necessarily obvious. Other tunes, such as “Brewin’,” are more overt contributions to the blues tradition. The album ends with a lovely, if melancholic rendition of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” alternating with the B section of John Coltrane’s “Naima.” That may sound like an unlikely mash-up, but it works beautifully.