Rymden – Valleys & Mountains

Space and time

Ah. How I didn’t feel it was okay for me to write about this album. So many reasons. Like: yes, I love listening to Jazz. But writing about it? You might just as well ask me to play it. Not competent, really. I approach it with a naive kind of joy, mostly, and I like what makes me feel good.

Another reason: not wanting to be yet another writer mourning the loss of Esbjörn Svensson in a piece about a Rymden album. Or, even worse, comparing pianists. Duh. I won’t do the latter, I promise. And I will not do any mourning either. But I can’t not look back. This is a good moment to do that.

It was a concert in Zurich, at the fabulous Moods, that sparked the urge to write. I had seen them play together before, 2019, Jazznojazz, Zurich. Plus about a half dozen e.s.t. concerts, Bugge Wesseltoft twice. My earliest encounter was e.s.t. at the Aalen Jazz Fest in 2001, and I remember sitting not much more than an arm’s length from Esbjörn Svensson. This time it was first row again, Bugge Wesseltoft right in front of me.

What struck me this time was that somehow the atmosphere wasn’t the same as in 2019. There was something that could be grasped from it, beyond the music. A warm mix of modesty, friendliness, gratitude and maybe even a sense of having come to terms with something.

Things seem to have grown into place. I remember the three gentlemen talking about their second album “Space Sailors”. They were chatting about the album, saying that while the first album had been compiled from material each of the three had brought individually, most of the material for the pieces on the second album had been created collaboratively, sometimes during sound checks for their (until then) about 100 concerts. This process must have resulted in this peaceful and positive, friendly aura.

A few other things have evolved as well. Magnus Öström has clearly taken the role of the emcee, in his witty, charming and slightly shy way. Bugge Wesseltoft is letting more of himself enter his Rymden stage self, not being able to stay seated for all too long, not being able to conceal his joy and the tons of positivity that emanate from him when he really gets into it. And Dan Berglund – he is mostly his usual self, and just maybe he is looking over to Bugge a few times more often than he might have looked over to Esbjörn Svensson, connecting, watching, listening and taking things from Bugge to play with.

Sometimes when Magnus Öström thanks the audience for their applause and their presence, Bugge Wesseltoft can be seen standing by his piano, shyly looking down, as if it wasn’t really his show, and then suddenly noticing that it might be a good idea to say thank you too, so he does, quickly turning to the audience for what is just a second or two, saying thanks with a quick nod. Good thing he is not shy at all when the keys are taking over.

Interestingly enough, when the show is over and the audience happily moves to the back of the club to buy the albums and the t-shirts, the three of them join their fans, smiling, enjoying the handshakes, the compliments, the gratitude of those who hand them their newly bought vinyl to get it signed. So relaxed, so natural together, you might think they have played together forever and not just a few years, and not with the history attached.

Three albums. That’s what it seemingly took to get to this point. When it was my turn to get my albums signed, I didn’t have much to say other than that the evening had given me peace. I hadn’t intended to say that, but it was accurate. It was the opposite of all the things that are happening in the world, and it was a special kind of peace coming from them, for the audience to take home along with the memories.

A lot of the empathetic air that you breathe in a Rymden live concert can be detected while listening to the album. Live – they simply switch your brain off, you are immersed and all reception. An album – we immediately start thinking, judging, comparing, analyzing… all kinds of things. They give us some images to keep our heads from doing that. “The Hike”, “A Walk In The Woods”, “The Mountain”, even “Himmel” (both heaven and sky). There is “Ru” (calm, rest, tranquility), and “Milan Bardo” (dream yoga) – plenty of associations, images, things to keep us from rationalizing too much.

And every now and then it can’t hurt to let the associative processes flow too. Somewhere between feeling and thinking. Like when “Ru” is making us remember e.s.t. ballads one moment, reminding us of Bugge Wesseltoft’s joy of recording Christmas albums the next moment. Maximum Ru here.

Some people remarked that the first two albums were very much Bugge, and that this is a more balanced album. I’m not so sure about that. I would argue that people have a more pronounced view of what Wesseltoft does, less of an idea what Berglund’s and Öström’s musical identity is. When I first listened to “Valleys & Mountains”, I even thought that Bugge Wesseltoft sounds a little more liberated, more at ease. But that’s just a gut feeling that is fed by the idea that true collaboration works best when everyone is truly at ease with each other, free of legacy, history, expectations, pressures, all that extra luggage.

First tracks are always chosen for certain reasons, wouldn’t you agree? “The Hike” is a wise choice, opening with electronics instead of piano, making sure that we don’t miss the Rock aspect of Rymden, and taking things even further with a guest musician, something new, and something good, sending a message, they’re hiking with a friend, and John Scofield is a good hiking buddy, strolling along with ease and happily disregarding any possible trail maps, simply exploring the valleys and the mountains as they appear in front of them.

I haven’t been much of a friend of what used to be called Jazz Rock some, what, 40 years ago? Never got into it. Someone should send this album back in time to give those guys an idea of what it can should like when Jazz adopts just the right amount of Rock attitude. Or just send them “A Walk In The Woods”. Should suffice.

The loveliest moment on “Valleys And Mountains” – at least to me – is “Milan Bardo”. A dreamy and heartwarming three minute piece that you just want to hug when you hear it. Loveliness. Just keep dreaming on when “Ro” comes along. Cuddle up deep in your sofa, listen, find peace inside yourself, enjoy a sip of extraordinarily good wine, the winter is coming, get the chimney going and look back at all the beautiful moments that make up your life.

Just don’t fall asleep. That’s not the idea. There are still some mountains to climb. The three guys have everything you need for an ascent, an uplifting melody, a strong bass, the right rhythm for every terrain, and plenty of virtuosity. This may be a Magnus Öström composition, but “The Mountain” is the track that ideally shows what Rymden is becoming to be – when the sum of all talents would already be more than enough, this is proof of the whole being more than the sum of these talents. All three of them shine individually, and so much more as a group.

Or is it “Song From The Valley”? In a very different way – yes. I was particularly happy about this one, experimental, full of meditative moods, hope and drama, a piece that is conveyed more than it is played. Maybe I am over interpreting things here, but maybe that’s the other great strength of Rymden, leaving form behind to delve in emotions and sentiments. I wouldn’t mind more of this, really.

If we weren’t in heaven already, “Himmel” takes us closer, contemplative and a little melancholic, slowly building and gently dissolving, like a steady rise to dramatic heights and a gentle disappearance in another sphere.

It’s a perfect ending. A little bit like on stage, when the three gentlemen wait until the last note has rung out, smiling. The only difference being that there is some time after that final note, when they come back to join us, to chat, to sign albums, to let their own happiness join the happiness of their audience.

My happiest image of the evening wasn’t one on stage, it was seeing the three sitting behind the counter at the club, smiling broadly, obviously enjoying each other’s company. Three guys that belong together, quite naturally. Comforting.

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