If ever an album were made for the Kind of Jazz website, this is it. It’s a real curate’s egg of an album: it’s kind of progressive rock-y, psychedelica-y, ambient trance-y and avant garde pop-music, that defies categorisation. And it works, for the most part.
But that’s what Tonbruket’s been doing for a decade now - not being content confined to one genre of music, but like some melodic Cuisinart, taking pleasure in what comes from mixing up unusual ingredients.
Led by former EST bassist Dan Berglund - recently reunited in Rymden with his rhythm section compadre Magnus Öström [review here] - Tonbruket includes the contributions of guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Johan Lindström, keyboardist and Swedish rocker Martin Hederos, and drummer Andreas Werliin.
Ten years in, they show little signs of musical fatigue. Masters of Fog is another slice of right-angled jazz-rock crossover: at times brusque, at others mellow, the music is, like the title track, somewhat foggy - moving, opaque, difficult to contain, expansive, and constantly changing. It is, fittingly in this modern era of wokeness in which the album falls, genre-fluid.
So, the opening track Masters of Fog immediately screams alt-country, with a dominant pedal steel vibe from Lindström and heavy, ponderous keyboards and drums which are as far from jazz as you can imagine; but here it is, on an album released by one of Europe’s leading jazz labels. It has the feel of a theme tune to a horror mini-series on Netflix; very eerie, and a brave opener for an album.
Next track AM/FM is utterly different, with touches of electronica and eastern European folk; the extensive palette of sounds open to Tonbruket even at this stage is plain to see and hear, and the band just shovels them one after one into the pot, like they’re cooking the richest of musical stews. Berglund’s bass motif on this track is particularly pleasing.
Listen to AM/FM here.
The Enders is a more conventional ballad, piano dominated and undemanding, but with some juicy phrasing. On the other hand, Entering the Amazonas is shockingly powerful - the opening thirty seconds is like a soundscape for a nightmare river journey by boat, with touches of jungle rhythms and calls from unknown beasts reverberating through the speakers. It’s like the musical love-child of Kraftwerk and Philip Glass played by The Shadows. Very, very odd, but sort of compelling.
Waiting for Damocles Sword does has a certain symbolic weight to it as the listen waits for a rather leaden, down-beat tune to fall (it doesn’t); Wheel Number 5 is punchier, with touches of grunge guitar and strong drumming from Werliin; there’s a real Quality Street element to this tune - it’s got something for everyone’s taste.
Final track The Pavlova Murders is a sparky ending; plucked and bowed double bass from Berglund induces shivers down the spine and by this point in the album, Hederos is just going all out on the keyboard sounds and the violin, like someone who knows he’s just about artistically spent.
Sweden remains where it’s at at the moment, I believe. Bands from there are operating as the plough share of modern European jazz, turning over the musical soil and nourishing the future by using the sonic remnants of the past.
Tonbruket’s definitely at the extreme end of that process, but the band is at times too arch and genre-bending for its own good. Yet overall it’s brave, defiant and, when listened to from start to end, Masters of Fog offers up a mysterious journey down its own version of the River Styx that the listener won’t forget in a while.
Tonbruket represents the very definition of eclectic. Loads of different styles and sounds that shouldn’t work together, but, through their intrinsic quality, they do.
But is it jazz?