(Shapeshifter Lab, Park Slope, Brooklyn . 23 September 2023. ‘Look Inside’ album launch. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
Album launches are interesting events: they highlight the excitement of spontaneous live performance at the same time as promoting a painstakingly-worked recording; they are celebrational events which give musicians an opportunity to demonstrate their excitement about a new work, but are also a rare moment when the audience can see a musician’s vulnerability in unveiling a new project. Bruno Råberg’s launch at Shapeshifter Lab of his latest album, Look Inside, dialled back the excitement and dialled up the vulnerability. Look Inside is his fourteenth record as a leader and was released in May (which may explain the muted celebration), but as his first solo bass album one can imagine it would be easy to feel a little exposed in this unfamiliar situation.
Billed as both introspective and retrospective, touching on his musical journey through the sounds of the different continents he has lived on and traveled through, Look Inside is a deep and diverse album that partners jazz standard interpretations with personal compositions drawing on his time growing up in Sweden, and studying in India and The Gambia. Ode to Spring is a melancholy narrative piece, bringing a meandering bass line in touch with an oft-returned to hook. Chennai Reminiscence brings variation in a rich bowed bass alternating with pulsing steps and rugged bounces, and Råberg’s interpretation of Prelude to a Kiss is such a comfortable fit, with him able to play the pauses in the piece.
The recordings of Look Inside are confident and strong, and in contrast a solo live performance can feel at times lonely. It is hard to play alone, particularly when there is an unused full band setup on stage behind you in preparation for the second set of the evening, and Råberg jokingly turning around to introduce the band to the audience highlighted their absence. When playing live solo there can be a tendency to try and fill the empty space in the room, while in the studio the space between has been effectively embraced. However, a live performance is perfect for showcasing Gyrating Spheres, where Råberg can busily explore the alternative sound-making mechanisms of the bass, whether that be the tap of the shoulders, the brushing of the upper bout, the primary colours of the strings below the bridge, or the beat between the sound holes. The audience found it irresistible to join in with their own taps and snaps.
This was one of the first shows at the new location of Shapeshifter Lab in Park Slope after their relocation from Gowanus in 2021, a move necessitated by what I can only interpret as a prime example of pandemic-induced unashamed rent extortion. In its new spot co-owners Fortuna Sung and Matthew Garrison have somehow managed to keep the spirit of the old venue – a wide and shallow space with a column-line punctuating the boundary between stage and audience – in their refurbishment of a more prominent location. Shapeshifter Lab functions as a community education and event space, as well as a coffee shop, and during the show its visible shopfront on Union Street was notably bringing in curious looks from passersby even while Brooklyn was suffering uncharacteristically British drizzle.
Not yet a subscriber of our Wednesday Breakfast Headlines?
Join the mailing list for a weekly roundup of Jazz News.
LINK: Look Inside on Bandcamp