Frank Maston’s latest LP under his surname is another dive into the slicked wonderland of European Library grooves, an imaginary soundtrack of cracked leather soul mixed with the lingering smell of wood paneling and Português Reds left curling in the air. While Maston is a consummate artist, he’s also a curator of sounds and moods, a quality that translates itself into his work as a producer, creating an out-of-time sensibility that’s somehow both simultaneously timeless and nostalgic. I’d asked Frank to pick an entry for the Hidden Gems series and he’s nabbed a Swedish treasure from Bo Hansson. Check out how Magician’s Hat (or Ur Trollkarlens Hatt in its own country) came into his life.
“Some of my Dutch friends turned me on to Magician’s Hat when I first started living in Holland,” reveals Maston. “They were very excited to show it to me — they knew my taste and knew that it would be very much up my alley. The first time we listened to it, we played it straight through twice. It quickly became a staple of my bike commutes during that time. It’s a beautiful album… very evocative and moody, really well done. It’s surprising it’s not really known outside of northern Europe. I never would have found it on my own.”
“It blends elements of jazz and prog with a sort of dark/foreboding vibe. Bo’s instrumental compositions are really melodic — they pop even with so much going on in the arrangements. His organ and electric piano playing is really on point, with some really incredible moments of improvisation. The quality and consistency really make this record stand out — not only in Hansson’s catalog but really in the wider musical climate of the time. It was a very bold record to make and ended up being a commercial success in the northern countries, although now it’s been largely forgotten.”
When I pose the question of whether the record’s influence seeped into Frank’s own music, or if it’s just something that’s enjoyed on its own delightful merits, he concedes, “Maybe both.” “When I heard this record for the first time,” he says, “it sounded like something I already should have known — it lined up with my tastes so well. I still listen to this record at least a few times a year…it somehow melds this really bleak Scandinavian winter vibe with a lot of warmth and beauty, which is what always brings me back to it. I’m very partial to well arranged instrumental music, and this is one of the definitive records for me. It was not a library or soundtrack record — it was a concept record for Bo Hansson. It was exactly what he wanted to make at the time, sort of in the spirit of Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Which is something I really identify with — resisting the obvious commercial benefits of making vocal pop music and following your muse into a territory that satisfies your own creativity, above all else. I think on some level it will always have some influence on what I’m making. Certainly it’s impacted my playing as a keyboardist.”
While, as Frank mentions, the record was not widely influential in the States, its popularity in Europe makes it not that hard to come by. Though it seems to be absent from streaming in full, a testament to streaming’s drawbacks, physical copies have made their way to US shops and a few discogs digs should bring you up a copy. Plus its been reissued on CD as of 2010, so pick your format there. It should pair well with Maston’s own Souvenir, which is out today. Interested in more from Hansson? Frank’s recommended a watch on this short documentary from ’77 as well.