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Dan Berglund’s Tonbruket, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 15/03/2010

by Tim Owen

March 18, 2010


These four distinctly charismatic musicians appeal by putting the emphasis on their acoustic side.

Tonbruket’s sound is inevitably thinner live than on record. Also the differentiating characteristics of the individual tunes are less obvious. The majority of the set proceeds at a steady mid tempo; transitions are less snappy and textural juxtapositions less crisply - i.e. more naturally - realised. All of this should be as expected, since the album is very much a production job. Live, electronic effects are less in evidence and the song-writing and compositional trade-offs between these four distinctly charismatic musicians, each with their own distinct history, come to the fore. None of this is a criticism, though expectations set by the album had to be adjusted.

Although the group bears Dan Berglund’s name I previously heard Tonbruket as very much a democracy. Berglund, after all, is neither the principle songwriter (everyone, if the album credits are any guide, contributes material more or less equally); nor is he in any obvious way a dominant musical personality. But it’s the fretboard of his double bass that is constantly projected behind the band, overlaying other muted images, and it’s his steady, solidly plummy tone that gives the ensemble sound much of its consistency, with Andreas Werliin’s drumming his perfect counterpoint. Werliin can lay down solid time when necessary, but often his attack is curiously indirect, and curiously effective. Burglund applies fewer treatments to his sound than he did when I saw him with EST. Only in the closing numbers does his approach ape the solid riffing of an electric rock bassist, and it’s the restrained, subtle sonorities of traditional music that set the tone.

It’s easy to imagine that these things might disappoint a primarily rock-oriented listener, but I found the emphasis on the acoustic rather than the electronic rather appealing. ?Tonbruket’ is apparently a Norwegian term for the Foley Room, in which sound effects are produced for film and radio. The name makes much more sense in relation to the live incarnation of the band, as the way in which individual contributions have been contextualized and assembled within a melodic and rhythmic framework are more apparent live; it’s easy to hear how individual musical ideas might have been isolated from longer stretches of experimentation, then reworked and polished, before being set within a group composition. Martin Hederos switches, to suit the mood of various passages within each song, between his five keyboards - korg to grand - and a violin. Johan Lindstrom also occasionally wanders over to claim the piano, but mostly plays from his range of guitars: lap steel, electric or, for the most part, semi-acoustic.

The group played the entire album and a few new pieces, of which by far my favourite was one Berglund announced as having been debuted on the night after a practice run-through the band judged to be “well? good enough”. This piece (which I’m told Berglund’s handwriting might suggest is called “Tyddbears (sic) On Ice)” set a subtly intricate middle section within a forcefully rhythmic framework that saw the Berglund/Werliin partnership realise its full potential. Another new number, “Track Pounder”, which featured Berglund’s most rockist playing, was presumably promoted to close the main set on account of its pounding rhythm. This number, presumably deliberately lacking in subtlety, was less successful, and represented the point at which Tonbruket overstepped the line and went astray in the no-man’s land that in unspecifiable ways separates Jazz from Rock. The final piece in a three-track encore, a sensitive rendition of “Waltz for Matilda” more than made amends.

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