(Queen Elizabeth Hall, EFG London Jazz Festival, 12 November 2022. Live review by Patrick Hadfield)
RYMDEN are Bugge Wesseltoft (piano), Dan Berglund (low) and Magnus Ostrom (drums); it’s been twenty-five years since Wesseltoft made a name for themselves with their album “New Conception of Jazz”, and almost thirty years since Berglund and Öström, together with Esbjörn Svensson, released their first record under the name Esbjörn Svensson Trio. After Svensson’s tragic death in 2008, Berglund and Öström parted ways, following very different creative paths.
Wesseltoft, Berglund and Öström have been playing as a trio since 2019: a Scandinavian supergroup – despite being Scandinavians, they seem unassuming and self-effacing, and would most likely pale at such a description. Despite the panoply of electronics that all three have, and in which they sometimes immerse themselves, their sound is above all acoustic. On a dark stage, Wesseltoft is seated in front of a grand piano; Berglund stands in the center, cradling his double bass; and Öström is surrounded by his drums and a vast assortment of percussion. Between them is a depth of meditative focus.
Rymden means ‘space’ in Swedish, and from the start of the show their music has a lot of space: it’s thoughtful and unrushed. Almost all of the music they played was from their second album, “Space Sailors”, but they performed with little to no pause between tracks, and virtually no conversation. There was a lot of improvisation and experimentation, the band seeming surprised where it was coming from: during Terminal 1 they install a reggae rhythm, venture into dub, and at the end of the track Öström exclaims: “Where does that come from? We have never done this before!
Their pieces morph from section to section, as the emphasis shifts from piano, bass and drums. Each musician seems to construct the music from simple segments: a soft piano figure becomes a powerful and monumental piano solo; a simple repeating drum pattern becomes increasingly complex as more and more is added; one of Öström’s solos consisted of a series of rolls on the hi-hat that seemed to defy time.
The music is also full of soul. Berglund’s bass playing is warm, and in several passages Öström used only his hands on his drums and cymbals, providing a different, even calmer vibe. Much of Wesseltoft’s piano playing was lightly reflective, although the two electric keyboards he had, along with a variety of effects, occasionally added a grittier edge. Berglund accompanied himself with whistles and at one point it seemed that all three were singing, which, aided by gadgetry, sounded like an astral choir.
It was a powerful and emotional performance. They finished with a spirited, upbeat number that earned them a standing ovation, returning to the stage for a more contemplative encore, “Homegrown.” A remarkable performance: they may not like to be called a supergroup, but great they were.
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photos and sometimes blogs on On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield