Dan Berglund’s role in the jazz-facing Esbjorn Svensson Trio (EST) came to an end in 2008 with the untimely passing of pianist Svensson. Now with fellow Swede Andreas Werliin of Wildbirds & Peacedrums, keyboardist Martin Hederos of The Soundtrack Of Our Lives and guitarist Johan Lindstrm, the double bass player returns as Tonbruket.
As part of a short tour of the UK, their gig tonight is opened by support act Youn Sun Nah & Ulf Wakenius, who perform five songs, including Nat King Cole and Tom Waits covers and even The Sound Of Music‘s My Favorite Things. Wakenius noodles away on acoustic guitar beneath a baseball cap while Korean diva Youn Sun Nah alternatively shrieks scarily and smiles sweetly. Only one song, the catchy Please Don’t Be Sad, is acknowledged as their own, suggesting this partnership need to spend more time writing together rather than simply showing off their accomplished performance skills.
Berglund, suddenly the centre of attention as the lynchpin of his own quartet, takes a more post/prog instrumental direction than with his previous incarnation. Given his new status as band leader, he sets himself and his double bass up centre stage, and is surrounded by his fellow instrumentalists and their instruments that range from grand piano to pedal steel.
They showcase their recently released debut album in its entirety, beginning with the rather epic Sister Sad and running on with the layered soundscapes of Stethoscope. As they get into their groove their influences become apparent. Lindstrm’s pedal steel and lap steel, anchoring Hederos’s synthy flights of fancy, takes on the spacey mantle of Dark Side Of The Moon-era Pink Floyd, but Berglund’s jazz background injects the concept with rhythms that take things in a different direction.
More than once the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and fellow jazz-influenced rock monoliths Radiohead and Tortoise whirl around these compositions that seem to exist between worlds, neither jazz nor rock but freely experimenting with the techniques of both. But where all three of these acts occasionally settle on a tune or a memorable phrase, Tonbruket’s set is instead chiefly memorable for its rich textures. This is not music to whistle on the way to work.
There are moments of violin which, taken with Berglund’s double bass, recall nothing so much as Penguin Cafe Orchestra, but these pastoral moments offer light relief from the deeper, moodier and rather impenetrable bulk of the set. It’s music to zone out to and is perfectly suited for the all-seater Queen Elizabeth Hall, though telling one track apart from another is rarely easy.
After a short pause the encore closes with Waltz For Matilda, a languid, low-key end to an evening of musical exploration. As with Berglund’s writing generally, it seems to be searching for something core, something central, but the signs are its a quest that has some development time left in it.
Tonbruket played: Sister Sad, Stethoscope, Sailor Waltz, Tyddbears, On Ice, Monstrous Collossus, Synth, The Wind And The Leaves, Gi Hop, NY Rock, Song For E, Trackpounder, Wolverine Hoods, Cold Blooded Music, Waltz For Matilda.