The Swedish pianist Mattias Risberg has teamed up with a range of well-known northern European born or based improvisers, including saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist and vocalist Jennie Abrahamson. He remains largely unknown in the U.S. but garnered well-deserved attention for And Now the QueenA Tribute to Carla Bley (Lilalo records, 2016), a duo recording with Ljungkvist. Risberg lives between two musical worlds as a post-modern composer with an affinity for (relatively) old-world instruments. His inspirations are no less diverse: he cites Buddha, Frank Zappa, Peter Gabriel, Paul Bley, and more. Traces of many influences can be heard in Zauberberg.
The ensemble known as Mattias Risberg's Mining takes its name from the ore mines in the Bergslagen region of Sweden, where Risberg grew up. Their debut album was recorded live in the depths of a mine in the town of Stripa. Live in Stripa (Kullen Reko, 2019) featured an impressive band including bassist Dan Berglund (Esbjorn Svensson Trio) and drummer Jon Falt (Bobo Stenson Trio). Mats Gustafsson's Fire! Orchestra group figures heavily in the remainder of Risberg's line up.
Metaphorically speaking, the caves are still with us. In a spoken segment of the opening title track, Abrahamson's child-like reading tells us where we will find the "names of the dead." The seemingly dispassionate narration takes on a special eeriness amid gothic pipe organ and bells. In sharp contrast "Sweet Science" is initially reminiscent of a Sandy Denny ballad, guitarist David Stackenäs accompanying Abrahamson's exquisite, unembellished vocal. As the reeds, strings and synthesizer enter the piece takes on an orchestrated lushness. "Red Ponds" and "Megaphone" are firmly rooted in hard rock, driven by Stackenäs' electric guitar and Abrahamson's experimentalism. Zauberberg closes with the engaging "Obstacles." Josefin Runsteen's violin and Risberg's piano supporting Abrahamson's beautifully fragile vocal.
Zauberberg has more contemplative moments than Mining's debut while still capitalizing on Risberg's broad stylistic palette. It would be hard to argue that Abrahamson's versatile voice isn't the focal point for much of the album. But it's Risberg's precise vocabulary and his traversing of boundaries that provide the unusual platform that makes this all work so well.
Zauberberg, Sweet Science; Shrink; Red Ponds; Rocks 'n Stein; Megaphone; Obstacles.
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