Bruno Råberg Tentet’s Evolver

cover, EvolverHere’s yet another superb recording from a large jazz ensemble. It’s been a good year for those, and it’s only just June!

After a critically acclaimed nonet album in 2002, bassist, composer, and educator Bruno Råberg spent the ensuing 20 years working in mostly small ensemble settings, capped off by his first solo bass release in 2023, Look Inside. With Evolver he returns to the large ensemble format, this time with a tentet of top talent plus remarkable special guests pianist Kris Davis and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III. It’s a complex, multi textured affair, swinging from melodic to highly experimental, bluesy to modal, jazzy to near classical, and back again.

All but one of the 10 pieces here were specially composed for this project. Evolver draws on international interpretations of jazz with its international cast of players. Råberg himself is a native of Sweden who’s been living in New England since the 1980s, and he currently teaches in the master’s program at the prestigious Berklee College of Music and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute. His 10-piece includes a diverse gang of musicians, most or all associated with Berklee: Brazilian-born flutist Fernando Brandão, Australian Stephen Byth on sax and clarinet, Swiss-born Charlotte Lang on bass clarinet, Kazakhstani pianist and organist Anastassiya Petrova, and Japanese drummer Gen Yoshimura; in addition to Americans Allan Chase (Phoenix) on saxophone, trumpeter and flugelhorn player Peter Kenagy (Seattle), trombonist Randy Pingrey (Wisconsin), and guitarist Nate Radley (New Hampshire).

The album begins with five stand-alone pieces plus the four-part suite “Echos.” After the warmly textured opener “Peripeteia,” meaning “to go on an adventure,” my ear was immediately arrested by “Mode Natakapriya,” built on a Carnatic mode, with tenor and trumpet improvising over deep textures from organ, electric guitar and of course Råberg’s bass. “Stiltje,” (Stillness in Swedish) borrows the title from his mother tongue and the piece’s hymn-like sonorities and dignified pace from that culture’s stately church traditions. Petrova’s B3 intro sets the spiritual tone, and questing solos on alto flute (Brandāo), trumpet (Kenagy) and clarinet (Byth) further cement the mood.

“Sunday, on the other hand, is open and flighty, a showcase for Petrova’s contemporary piano stylings. It’s a workout for the rhythm section of Petrova, Råberg, and drummer Yoshimura, with color from Charlotte Lang’s bass clarinet, sunny tones from various horns behind melodic flute, trombone and guitar solos. “Elegy,” a repeat from Råberg’s quartet record Lifelines (2008) with Ben Monder, Chris Cheek and Matt Wilson, is the first track to bring in Smith on tenor sax and Davis on piano. It’s an exercise in somber, mildly dissonant tones, as suggested by the title; Smith’s tenor solo — really more of a duet with Davis — a warm, lush, romantic moment that stands out for its vibrant tones and calm confidence. Davis’ own solo turn is very understated. What a gloriously beautiful tune!

That “Echoes” suite, built on a 12-tone row, moves through layers of increasing abstraction in the first three movements, (a setting particularly suited to Davis’s highly inventive and angular approach) then returns to a more melodic structure in the final movement.

Bruno Råberg’s Tentet’s young, alert international cast is a great fit for the bassist’s penchant for a Euro-style feel to his compositions, and special guests Smith III and Davis lend their own particular American type of gravitas to the proceedings. Highly recommended.

(Orbis Music Records, 2024)

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Gary Whitehouse

A fifth-generation Oregonian, Gary is a retired journalist and government communicator. Since the 1990s he has been covering music, books, food & drink and occasionally films, blogs and podcasts for Green Man Review. His main literary interests for GMR are science fiction, music lore, and food & cooking. A lifelong lover of music, his interests are wide ranging and include folk, folk rock, jazz, Americana, classic country, and roots based music from all over the world. He also enjoys dogs, birding, cooking, craft beer, and coffee.

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