Magnus Öström Band

Magnus Öström last night © Garry Corbett

Builder of bridges – Magnus Öström last night © Garry Corbett

Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham UK

The Vasco da Gama bridge, just east of Lisbon, is the longest bridge in Europe. It’s an architectural and engineering delight, because not only does it rise high over the Tagus River in a dramatic arch, but it has curves along the bridge and causeways of its nearly 11 mile total length – it arcs in both axes. Apparently, because of its length, it also takes account of the curvature of the earth.

I thought of it while listening to Magnus Öström on drums, Daniel Karlsson on piano and keyboards, Petter Gunnarsson on electric bass and synth, and Andreas Hourdakis on electric guitar last night.

I suppose the drummer is usually the architect and engineer of the overall structure of a piece of music, especially in the more spontaneous constructions common to jazz. Öström, as he showed in his previous band, E.S.T., and now in this quartet, is certainly a master of the long span, the spacious and elegantly controlled arc.

There were plenty of these exquisitely controlled developments from quiet and simple to ever more intense and complex and then back down again, the build-up like a swell slowly developing and the denouement having more of the crash and the ripple to it, but never losing control.

This demands band interaction which is more aligned to rock band procedures than a jazz band. There are solos, most of them falling to Hourdakis, who maintains a consistent, Methenyesque tone, drenched in chorus and reverb, and plays exacting, flowing melodies both of single notes and from chord constructions,  but mainly this is a group exercise.

The music came mostly from the new album, Searching For Jupiter. It’s a more hopeful offering than its predecessor, Thread Of Life, which was riven through with the sorrow Öström was suffering after the death of his long-standing musical partner, Esbjorn Svensson (they had formed their first group while barely out of short trousers).

Magnus can talk about his old band now – “It’s great to be back in Birmingham. The last time was with a little trio – well, a big trio, actually” – but he can’t quite bring himself to name E.S.T. And he could be referring obliquely to the trauma (he nearly didn’t continue as a musician) when he says after the buoyant, countryish new tune Happy And The Fall: “That was inspired by my son. Children are very good at getting up after a fall. We can learn a lot from children.”

The tunes he played from Thread Of Life were Weight Of Death, which is as its name suggests, and Ballad For E, with Hourdakis doing full justice to a solo space originally filled on the album by Pat Metheny.

The single-set concert opened, as Searching For Jupiter does, with The Moon (And The Air It Moves) and Dancing At The Dutchtreat, and closed, as the album does, with At The End Of Eternity. The highpoint came with the minimalism developing into prog-rock title track of the new album. We also heard the gloriously upbeat Through The Sun and the marvellously dark Hour Of The Wolf.

If the band felt a little nervous at the start – I’m not sure they have gigged this music much, and this was actually a debut outing for bassist Gunnarsson, who is completely new to the music – they put in an excellent  and increasingly assured performance, and were smiling much more broadly by the end.  This was the first night of a British and Irish tour; I predict its arc is going to be ever upward.

This was a Jazzlines concert.

Try not to miss the Magnus Öström Band:

Tonight: Lagavulin Hall, Islay
Tomorrow: Bruichladdich Hall, Islay
Monday/Tuesday: Ronnie Scott’s, London
Wednesday: The Capstone Theatre, Liverpool
Thursday: Band On the Wall, Manchester

Then they are off to Ireland and Europe. For all dates go here.

For a review of Searching For Jupiter go here, and for Thread Of Life, here.

Categories: Live review

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