Swedish guitarist Andreas Pettersson has always had a need for speed. It was his calling card as a young player in the Visby Big Band and since heading out on his own as a soloist, has been a defining characteristic of almost all his work. That isn't a bad thing, of course, but untended skill, the type of playing that replaces style with raw speed, can become a liability in the hands of a lesser player. Pettersson's technical proficiency, on the other hand, is far from heavy handed and he proves it on his latest disc Gullin on Guitar, a tribute to the delicate, melodic music of Swedish jazz icon Lars Gullin. Although he's still relatively unknown in the U.S., Gullin was a force in the world of European jazz throughout the 1950s and 60s. His baritone sax appeared on dozens of recordings, ranging from simple dance bands to guest appearances with many of the era's cool school greats, until his career was cut short by a heroin habit in the 1970s. He died in 1976, a broken and largely forgotten "legend," although his unique sound has since been adopted by many modern players.
On Gullin on Guitar, Pettersson apes Gullin's gentle, laid-back style with a set that walks coolly through nine of the saxophonist's best-known tracks. The disc starts out with "Portrait of My Pals," an up-tempo orchestral piece from 1964 that originally won Gullin the Golden Disc Award. Pettersson dances between the multiple melody and chorus sections with ease, showcasing his straight-ahead chops and embellishing the sound nicely. "Danny's Dream" slows things down and is matched with a "completely reharmonized" version of the Swedish folk tune "Gamble Valu." The transitions between "Danny's" and the Gullin-recorded "Gamble" are a little abrupt. Each could probably stand alone as their own track, but the interpretation is interesting and Pettersson's solos are great fun. Other standouts include a mid-tempo version of "Decent Eyes," the sometimes-smoking "Be Careful" and "For FJ Fans Only," a lively duet with bassist Hans Backenroth. Overall, Gullin on Guitar is a varied and diverse collection that covers a lot of ground, revisiting an old master and introducing a fresh Swedish talent at the same time. Pettersson's guitar melds well with the source material, moving lightly over Gullin's melodies and ramping up nicely for solos without completely obliterating the original work. It's a keeper.