Peter Bruun, Søren Kjærgaard and Jonas Westergaard – Thēsaurōs
(ILK341LP/ Album review by AJ Dehany)
Thēsaurōs is a cathedral of sound with the architectural mastery of Wren, the mystical suggestiveness of Hawksmoor, and the mathematical intangibility of Escher. This daunting 82-minute 7-track piano trio album is the second in a projected trilogy from the monster trio of Jonas Westergaard on bass, Søren Kjærgaard on piano, and Peter Bruun on drums.
Each album explores compositions solely by one of the trio. Jonas Westergaard wrote Positioner/Positions (2021) with a comparatively light running time of 31 minutes for three tracks, in which the trio established its rapport, virtuosity, thoughtfulness and energy. Søren Kjærgaard will take up the quill for the next album, and drummer Peter Bruun is credited with the present one. I saw them in Berlin’s Zig Zag Jazz Club in 2021 in a set formally suggestive of chamber music with a masterful fission of spaciousness and frenetic energy. The new album presents more of the measured approach of the goodly ponderous moments of the live experience, with the intellectual demands of the music at the forefront.
Some artworks initially seem daunting, or even impenetrable, before opening out into understanding (even if the meaningfulness is personal rather than encoded in difficulties). I must admit that the more I listen to Thēsaurōs, the more its complexities and mysteries deepen. It is highest common denominator music, and easier to talk about in high-falutin’ analogies rather than by analysis of the music itself. Many commentators around James Joyce’s 1922 allusive meta-novel Ulysses decry any book that they claim requires you to read another book to read it— but that’s actually how books work, and life. On one dimension, Thēsaurōs can be viewed as a thesaurus of musical tropes—the Schoenbergian modernism of opener Epitome and closer Structures, the jazz balladry suggested in track four, Kinesis— but none of these are sustained very long before being deconstructed and reconfigured by the robust but sometimes hard-to-follow personal interactions of the trio and their individual imaginations.
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I once saw Malija, the trio of masters Mark Lockheart, Jasper Høiby, and Liam Noble, at the end of a tour, by which point they had grown beyond their set list into an almost free-form mutuality in exploring and refiguring the compositions spontaneously, but with an endearing lyricism that allows an immediate hook for the listener. Similarly, one of the greatest of modern piano trios at this level, Django Bates’ Beloved Trio, tends to explore Parker tunes, which gives you a starting point even if the results can be bracingly unrecognisable. Joyce’s Ulysses is grounded in Homer’s Odyssey, which anchors the text’s ribald experimentalism. At this stage the trio of Peter Bruun, Søren Kjærgaard and Jonas Westergaard have long since reached Malija’s freedom and facility with written material, but— as is the problem with almost all modern original improvised music using compositions in a free way— I just wish all these groups would print the charts so we could have a better go at understanding what they’re doing.
But then, Ulysses is also a prosaically straightforward naturalistic novel that can be read simply as one man walking around Dublin pissing and drinking. With players at the level of Malija, Beloved, and these guys, you can just sit back, try to unthink yourself, and enjoy the odyssey. But who does that? It’s wondrous to gaze up at the whispering gallery of Wren’s St Paul’s, to imagine esoteric meanings in Hawksmoor’s Egyptological imagery, and to bend your sense of space around Escher’s impossible geometries. Thēsaurōs seems to possess impossible geometries, a range of reference that would take a lifetime to unpick, and a self-assured structural sense that invites wonder. You get to the end of it all, after 82-minutes of puzzling, almost cursing it, tired but oddly exhilarated— and then you put it on again. Because nothing is as compelling as a mystery with no solution.
UPDATE: Peter Bruun has been in touch to notify us that scores, and explanations of some of the basic principles involved in his work around “rhythmic design” are in fact available on his website HERE. We apologise for the oversight, and thank Peter Bruun for his intervention.
AJ Dehany writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
LINKS: Previous live review
February 23 at Brorsons Kirke in Copenhagen, Denmark
February 24 at KM28 in Berlin, Germany.