Review: Tonbruket plus Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius


Dan Berglund's Tonbruket plus Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius
(Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 15th 2010, review by Philip Gowman)


Dan Berglund played bass in the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, and after Svensson’s untimely death in 2008, he regrouped with some of his musical friends from pre-e.s.t. days. Berglund’s is serious music, and deserves attention. The quality of musicianship in the band is beyond doubt. The double bass is literally centre stage, with a battery of keyboards on one side: Martin Hederos, the keyboardist, moves as if he’s in a 1970s rock band, and also plays fiddle with a suitably dark, grainy tone.

Percussionist Andreas Werliin, and Johan Lindstroem on guitar, also doubling on keyboard, complete the quartet. But with only four instrumentalists they manage to create a sustained and varied sound – with the help of electronic wizardry – which is much bigger in conception than you would expect from what you see on the stage. Maybe more could have been made of the visual projections, which did not quite match the scale of the music: the camcorder and MacBook on the engineers’ desk did not always seem up to the task.

40 years ago, fellow Swede Bo Hansson released his album of music inspired by Lord of the Rings, and it was that style of composition that was brought to mind by the performance at the QEH on Monday, though Berglund's music has broader horizons and a more sombre colour palette.

His sound is darkly atmospheric, conjuring up open Nordic landscapes, occupying a middle ground between the surging emotion evoked by Sibelius and the bleak skies inhabited by Wallander. It is symphonic in scale and ambition, and if there was a slightly disappointing element in the set it was that in general the compositions were individually only 4 or 5 minutes long. When listening to Mahler you don’t want to stop to applaud every 250 bars: you’d rather wallow for the full 90 minutes and react after the final bars have faded into the distance.

While there was plenty to wallow at in Tonbruket’s sound, there are also plenty of fast-paced sections to prevent a cloud of depression falling over the proceedings. This was music of beauty as well as ambition. I had gone to the Queen Elizabeth Hall to support Youn Soun Nah, and had been only moderately enthusiastic about staying for the full 90 minutes of Tonbruket. But I found myself glued to my seat, until forced to rise to join the standing ovation at the end.

I had wondered how Tonbruket supporters would react to the opening act, Youn Sun Nah and Ulf Wakenius? And also how this duo, who so commanded the intimate space of the Vortex in May last year, would fare in a much larger venue. If there were any doubts, they were immediately dispelled by Wakenius’s intimate solo tribute to E (presumably Esbjörn Svensson).

Youn Sun Nah was then welcomed on stage, and the duo performed numbers from their album Voyage: a smaller selection than their Vortex gig, in a set lasting half an hour. The same chemistry between the performers was there, and after so long touring the album they were taking greater risks with the performance: Nah’s title track seemed almost too slow, only kept from losing momentum completely by her supreme breath control; at the other end of every musical spectrum the up-tempo Please Don’t Be Sad contained a scat cadenza of amazing virtuosity. The closing version of My Favourite Things, accompanied only by the simple chimes of a thumb piano, capped a set which seemed to win the duo a new crowd of admirers.

Philip Gowman is the editor of London Korean Links. Tonbruket andYoun Sun Nah record for ACT Records.

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