Cult Classic-Per Husby Septett-Peacemaker.

Growing up, Per Husby never dreamt of becoming a musician. That was despite music playing an important part in his life.  Initially he took piano lessons and later, enrolled in a correspondence course from Berklee that covered elementary jazz theory and the principles of arrangement.  He also spent many hours listening to everything from classical to jazz as well as the albums he bought from an American mail order company. This included the albums he read about in Downbeat magazine. However, despite his love of music he wanted to become a civil engineer. 

This changed after Per Husby graduated in 1969 and enrolled at the Norwegian Institute of Technology in the city of Trondheim. Back then, it had a thriving jazz scene. That’s still the case in the city today.

Back in 1969, there were many venues where jazz was played. This included at the Student’s Union, where concerts regularly took place. However, at the time, there was a shortage of pianists and this is how Per Husby became an accidental musician.

Having arrived in the city planning to become a civil engineer, he took part in the occasional jam session. That was how Bjørn Alterhaug heard Per Husby play. He was so impressed that he asked him to join his band. This was just the start.

Soon, the pianist in the Bodega Big Band left Trondheim. Founder and bassist Jan Tro, who at the time, was looking for a replacement. He invited Per Husby to join the Band. Before long, he also became the arranger and composer. This turned out to be good practice.

Although music was still a hobby for Per Husby, this was about to change. One day in Trondheim, he met a friend from Oslo. The pair had played handball as teenagers, and shared a love of music. It turned out his friend had written a children’s musical for local theatre. He also needed a musical director for the project.

Per Husby became the new musical director. As a student struggling to make ends meet, the extra money was a big help and would finance his civil engineering studies. Little did he know they were almost at an end.

Those running the theatre were so pleased with Per Husby’s work as musical director that they offered him the role on a permanent basis. He accepted the offer that day, he realised then that he was never going to become a civil engineer. That was despite finishing his course and receiving his diploma from the Norwegian Institute of Technology. Instead, Per Husby knew that he was going to pursue a musical career. 

In 1974, saxophonist Asmund Bjørken had been asked to for a band to play at the Molde Jazz Festival. Per Husby liked the concept and wrote a few arrangements for the nascent ensemble. It featured a talented horn section that was drawn from the local jazz scene. The only problem was that they weren’t good at reading music, and the band was short-lived. 

However, Per Husby liked the idea of this type of ensemble. He  knew to make it work that he needed better musicians. That was when he decided to move to Oslo. 

At the time, Oslo was where the best and most experienced jazz musicians were based. It was also home to most of the recording studios in Norway. Now based in the Norwegian music capital, Per Husby started putting together a list of musicians who would form his “dream band.” They were really enthusiastic about the project.

Following some concerts and a recording session, Per Husby was approached by Roger Arnhoff who owned a studio in Oslo. He was planning to set up a new label. It would take a different approach to the other labels who tended to sign the more commercial bands and artists. The new label would offer a platform for new and up-and-coming bands. This he hoped would include the Per Husby Septett.

The bandleader accepted the offer, and an album was recorded. This was Peacemaker, which when it was released  by the nascent label should’ve been the debut album by the Per Husby Septett.

However, just a  couple of months after the album was recorded, Roger Arnhoff phoned Per Husby to tell him that he had had to cancel his plans to start a new label. This must have been a huge disappointment. However, to cushion the blow Per Husby was allowed to keep the recording of Peacemaker and do what he wished with it.

It just so happened that in Trondheim, the Students’ Union had formed their own record label Studentersamfundets Plateselskap. The new label was looking for projects by musicians who had a connection to the Students’ Union. It just so happened that Per Husby lived in a Students’ Union house.

That was how the label came to release Peacemaker by the Per Husby Septett in 1977. Nowadays this Norwegian jazz rarity is a cult classic.

Having agreed to release Peacemaker by the Per Husby Septett, the nascent Studentersamfundets Plateselskap label had 700 copies of the album pressed. There was a problem though. The label had no budget for had no budget for PR or distribution. This was hugely disappointing.

To make matters worse, Peacemaker didn’t sell well. With no PR campaign record buyers weren’t aware of the Per Husby Septett’s debut album. The lack of a distributor proved problematic as record shops were unable to source copies of album. 

Before long, Peacemaker became a collector’s item in Norway and across the world. Nowadays, the album is a much-prized  rarity which showcases the considerable talents of the Per Husby Septett. It features some of Norway’s top jazz musicians as what was described as a: “small big band” work their way through a captivating collection of cover versions and original tracks.

Side A.

Opening the first side of the album is a combination of two of Charlie Parker’s best known, and finest blues themes, Au Privave and Bloomdido. 

They’re followed by the ballad Nokve. This Per Husby composition finds tenor saxophonist Harald Bergersenplaying a starring role. He delivers a musical masterclass and sets the bar high for the rest of the album.

At the time Peacemaker was recorded Kenny Wheeler was one of Per Husby’s favourite composers and musicians. He decided to cover two of his compositions Smatta and Introduction To No Particular Song. They provide the perfect showcase for this all-star band. 

Then on Cedar Walton’s classic Fantasy In D it’s Bjørn Johansen on soprano saxophone who steals the show. That’s despite this being a difficult piece to play. However, it’s an almost effortless performance one of the greats of Norwegian jazz. This is the perfect way to close the first side.

Side B.

Harold Land’s The Peacemaker opens the second side. It’s another difficult piece to play as it moves between 3/4 and 4/4 time. However, it’s an effortless transition by the Per Husby Septett as they interpret this track and enjoy the opportunity to improvise and experiment musically.

The second Per Husby composition on the album was Adgang F. The track title is actually the Norwegian translation for Piglet’s house in Winnie The Pooh. Again, it’s Harald Bergersen’s solo that steals the show. It should be a difficult part to play, but he makes it look undemanding as he plays with a fluency that belies the complexity of this piece.

Closing Peacemaker is a cover of Charlie Parker’s Confirmation. It was a track Per Husby had always wanted to cover. However, the only problem was that he only had one trumpeter and three saxophonists. This he realised wasn’t enough. So in the second part of the piece he augments the horn section with a flugelhorn that helps fill out the sound. The result is a fitting tribute to Bird and the perfect way to close the album.

Sadly, like so many albums released on smaller labels in over the past fifty years, Peacemaker failed to find the audience it deserved. That was a great shame as the Per Husby Septett features some of the great and good of Norwegian jazz. 

They showcase their considerable skills on Peacemaker, which  features cover versions and original compositions where the Per Husby Septett seamlessly veer between ballads and bossa nova to modal and post bod on this oft-overlooked hidden gem of a Norwegian jazz album that belatedly is starting find the wider audience it deserves.

Cult Classic-Per Husby Septett-Peacemaker.

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