Published on 1st October 2020
Rymden – Space Sailors
The border between jazz and prog is a bit like the one separating Northern Ireland from the Republic. Some people act as if it doesn’t exist, others want it marked with barbed wire and patrolled by helicopter gunships.
I’m of the “Border? What border?” persuasion – in fact, I believe some of the most progressive music is coming from the jazz fraternity. So I heartily recommend to you this new album by Rymden.
If there is such a thing as a Scandinavian jazz supergroup, then Rymden could be it, combining the celebrated talents of versatile and prolific pianist Bugge Wesseltoft with two members of the much-loved Esbjörn Svensson Trio, bassist Dan Bergland and drummer Magnus Öström. Their 2019 debut album was a delight, with the usually experimental Wesseltoft reining himself in a bit to produce something powerful and melodic that certainly harked back to the best of EST. But Space Sailors is a darker, more adventurous album that’s full of challenging rhythms, textures and moods.
It doesn’t sound like jazz, really. There’s none of that “t-t-tish, t-t-tish” with the brushes – the drums pound and pummel, driving the music along like the engines in the Titanic. The bass fuzzes and buzzes with an animal-like urgency, frequently leading the trio down the fast lane, while Wesseltoft steps out from behind his piano to employ abrasive electronic instruments.
I can hear all sorts of influences here – there’s the occasional nod to EST (particularly in the mournful My Life in A Mirror) but there’s also elements of Soft Machine, King Crimson, the sadly-defunct Neil Cowley Trio and ‘60s-influenced Dutch band Brutt! Frequently, the tracks are not so much about melody as creating moods and occasionally unsettling soundscapes.
Take opener The Life and Death of Hugo Drax (he was the villain in the James Bond book and film Moonraker; it ended badly for him). Bergland sets up an urgent, insistent riff before Wesseltoft improvises discordantly over a tricky-dicky, Crimson-ish rhythm. The atmosphere is busy but brooding, the arrangement seemingly random with the piano occasionally following the bass, then throwing in stabs of disjointed chords. There’s a delicate, melodic section in the middle before everything builds up to a cacophonous end.
Is it jazz? Is it prog? Is it contemporary classical music, or the soundtrack to a sci-fi horror? Whatever it is, it’s powerful stuff and is a great start to an album that’s full of genre-busting sounds.
Consider also The Actor (Gonzo Goes to Pasadena). With the bass pulsing in one time signature, the drums driving in another, Wesseltoft does little more than stab piano chords at the listener. But the result is funky, hypnotic and irresistible. The Spacesailor bounces along with an insistent ‘60s pulse, Sondan is gently contemplative piano and bass over a hypnotic, electronically-processed drum track, and Arriving at Ramjay Part II features a big, bold, triumphant melody bursting out from a background of random electronic noises.
I could go through every track and find something to rave about – suffice to say I have been playing this album practically non-stop over the last week or so and on each occasion it has given me more pleasure than being fed curry by Liz Hurley in a fur bikini. Call it jazz, call it prog, call it whatever – I call it brilliant. Get it and enjoy.
01. The Life and Death of Hugo Drax (4:43)
02. The Spacesailor (5:40)
03. Sondan (4:51)
04. Terminal One (5:13)
05. The Final Goodbye (5:03)
06. Pilgrimstad (1:21)
07. Arriving at Ramjay Part I (1:32)
08. Arriving at Ramjay Part II (7:21)
09. The Actor (Gonzo Goes to Pasadena) (4:57)
10. My Life in A Mirror (6:08)
11. Free as A Bird (5:28)
12. Sondan Outro (2:04)
Total Time – 54:21
Bugge Wesseltoft – Grand Piano, Fender Rhodes, Moog, Celesta, Electronics
Dan Berglund – Double Bass, Electronics
Magnus Öström – Drums, Percussion, Electronics, Voice
Record Label: Jazzland Recordings
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 18th September 2020