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Dan Berglund’s Tonbruket


by Ian Mann

March 05, 2010


Former E.S.T. bassist Berglund delivers a collection of distinctive and fiercely intelligent instrumental music informed by rock, jazz, folk and country

Following the tragic death of Esbjorn Svensson in 2008 bassist Dan Berglund is the first former E.S.T. member to raise his head above the parapet with a new project. Tonbruket is both the title of the album and the name of the band assembled by Berglund for this, his début recording as a leader. The word is Swedish for “sound factory” and the ten selections all come from members of the band with the final versions the result of a collective arranging/improvising process. This process of the writer coming in with a composition and then developing it within a group dynamic recalls E.S.T.‘s working methods but the resultant music is significantly different to that of Berglund’s old band.

Much of this is due to the distinctive contribution of guitarist Johan Lindstrom with whom Berglund played in his pre E.S.T. days as part of the group Per Texas Johansson. Lindstrom was the first musician Berglund played with after Svensson’s death, their private jam sessions eventually leading to the birth of Tonbruket. In addition to the regulation electric guitar Lindstrom also plays lap and pedal steel guitars, instruments rarely associated with jazz. The nearest parallel is perhaps the work of Greg Leisz, a serial collaborator of Bill Frisell and a player with whom Berglund has played briefly in the past. Indeed there are parts of “Tonbruket” that sound very similar to a Frisell record. But Frisell’s Americana is only one component of Tonbruket’s output. There is a definite European sensibility to the record and Berglund’s rock background is referenced throughout.

Joining Berglund and Lindstrom in this Swedish supergroup are drummer Andreas Werliin and keyboard player Martin Hederos. Werliin is a versatile player and forms one half of the highly regarded Swedish experimental duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums. Hederos comes from a rock background and has worked with the band The Soundtrack Of Our Lives. The album appears on ACT and E.S.T.‘s sound engineer Ake Linton has an involvement in the new project.

Interestingly the Tonbruket album has garnered some decidedly mixed reviews. Jazz On Three’s Jez Nelson described the record as “controversial” and despite playing an excerpt from his favourite track “The Sailor’s Waltz” he was unimpressed overall. John Fordham gave the album a bit of a savaging in The Guardian. I got the impression that it was all a bit too rockist for Mr. Fordham. His cross referencing to the music of Mike Oldfield and Fleetwood Mac I found particularly baffling. It doesn’t sound much like Oldfield and even less like any version of Fleetwood Mac. A dyed in the wool jazzer I don’t think John has heard that much rock music to make comparisons.

Andy Robson’s piece in Jazzwise was far more balanced. He not only reviewed the album but also talked to Berglund about the project. Robson also picked up on the Frisell references and also made mention of Pink Floyd. I can see where he’s coming from, there are moments when Lindstrom’s guitar soars off into the ether where he sounds a little like the Floyd’s Dave Gilmour. Robson didn’t feel that everything worked but unlike the others his overall tone was encouraging.

For what it’s worth I like this record a lot more than any of the above commentators. It appeals to my own rock background and covers an impressive range of mood, styles and textures all within a recognisable group identity. Berglund may be the nominal leader and probably the best known of the four group members through his E.S.T. past but essentially Tonbruket is a band, with a band mentality.

I’ve a lot of sympathy with Berglund for the critical backlash he’s received elsewhere. It strikes me that he was in a “damned if he did, damned if he didn’t” position. Drafting in another pianist to work with him and E.S.T. drummer Magnus Ohrstrom would have generated almost total opprobrium, conversely any new project is almost bound to suffer by dint of comparisons. “Tonbruket” is a brave record, it’s a step into the unknown for Berglund and one that deserves a more sympathetic appraisal than it’s been granted in some quarters. Besides which I think it’s bloody good. So there.

Comparisons between E.S.T. and Tonbruket are inevitable but Berglund’s choice of personnel represents an attempt to distance himself from his old band. He didn’t feel ready yet to work with Ohrstrom again and instead drafted in Werliin. The group may still have a pianist but Hederos is essentially a keyboard player, more of a colourist than a soloist and his style is so different to Esbjorn Svensson’s as to render comparisons redundant.

The album begins with Hederos’s tune “Sister Sad” which begins with mournful sounding pedal steel guitar before accelerating and soaring off into space on banks of layered guitars and almost “Telstar” like organ. After building to a climax the music floats, weightless in deep space. It’s a dramatic, atmospheric, attention grabbing opener, especially for those of us who, like it’s creators, grew up on prog and metal before gravitating to jazz.

The following “Stethoscope” (by Lindstrom) is more throwaway, centred round a single vamp, but is again an impressive example of texture and layering. The piece is essentially a bridge into Nelson’s favourite Berglund’s own “The Sailors Waltz”. Here Berglund picks up the bow for the first time evoking comparisons with his dramatic, effects laden arco work with E.S.T.. Here Berglund keeps it simple, his playing is unadorned but beautiful, moving and effective. As Berglund told Robson “in E.S.T. I effectively had to play bass and guitar, I don’t have to do that here” Elsewhere Lindstrom’s guitar keens mournfully and Hederos acoustic piano colours delicately. It sometimes evokes the E.S.T. sound but has enough character to maintain it’s own strong sense of identity.

Lindstrom’s “Gi Hop” offers a pop sensibility centred around a catchy hook and repetitive groove. There’s a folkiness too with Hederos on fiddle and Berglund on jauntily bowed bass, but at four minutes plus it goes on for rather too long and without any clear sense of development. One gets the impression that for the band it’s a bit of a musical joke.

By way of contrast another Lindstrom tune the beautiful “The Wind And The Leaves” isn’t nearly long enough. Delicate and folksy it features the composer’s acoustic guitar and Berglund’s rich bowed bass with judicious pump organ colourations from Hederos. It’s all very lovely and conjures up visions of lonely,deserted Swedish forests.

“Wolverine Hoods”, a joint composition by Hederos and Berglund perhaps comes closest to the spirit of Berglund’s old band building as it does from Hederos’ simple acoustic piano melody to something more widescreen featuring Lindstrom’s guitar wrenchings.

Monstrous Colossus” by Lindstrom sounds exactly as you’d expect it to, a thunderous nod to Berglund’s heavy metal past, Sabbath, Purple et al but delivered with the intelligence of a King Crimson.

Hederos’ “Song For E” is, I assume, a homage for the departed Svensson. Berglund’s expressive pizzicato bass opens the piece shadowed by church like organ before a Svensson like melody takes over sketched by Hederos on piano, with organ presumably overdubbed later. Berglund’s bass solo is lyrical and lovely, my only reservation concerns the monotonous programmed drum beats. They make you yearn for the musicality and attention to detail of the great Magnus Ohrstrom. All in all though it’s a worthy tribute.

“Cold Blooded Music” co-written by Berglund and Lindstrom is another of the album’s stand out cuts, a shifting opus of bowed bass, distorted guitar and other electronica it’s been compared to some of Radiohead’s more esoteric offerings. Dramatic, adventurous and sometimes rocking it belies it’s title.

Lindstrom’s brief Frisell like “Waltz For Matilda” ends the album in a skewed country kind of vein with the composer’s steel guitar the principal voice.

“Tonbruket” clearly isn’t a jazz record, a fact that has obviously rankled in some circles. It’s rhythms are drawn from rock and there’s hardly an orthodox jazz beat on the album. It is however a collection of distinctive and fiercely intelligent instrumental music informed by rock, jazz, folk and even country. With several palpable hits and one or two near misses it’s well worth anybody’s time. If you were an E.S.T fan I’d urge you to hear this record. It’s very different but something of the spirit of the trio lives on here and I’m sure you’ll find something to enjoy.

Similarly I’d point Frisell fans in Tonbruket’s direction too, there are plenty of reference points for Bill’s followers to latch on to. Tonbruket’s clever blend of post rock should also hold appeal to fans of Radiohead, Tortoise, Jaga Jazzist and others.

The group are shortly undertaking a ten date tour of the British Isles (dates are on our news pages)  and I intend to be there as I think it will be fascinating to see this music played in a live setting.

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