Staffan Bråsjö: Stratosfär

Classically influenced Swedish keyboard player, noted as 'folk-jazz', doesn't offer much of jazz here aside from echoes of Jacques Loussier

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Swedish pianist, organist and composer Staffan Bråsjö was educated at the University of Gothenberg’s Academy of Music and Drama, and Stockholm’s Royal College of Music. Although his classical influences are strong, his music has been described as “folk-jazz”, and he has recorded with such diverse artists as Kenyan nyatiti player Daniel Onyango, guitarist Tobias Andersson and free-jazz group Into The Wild.

His trio includes award-winning multi-instrumentalist Josefin Runsteen, former violin soloist with the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, who has recorded with artists including Maja Elliot, Alex Zethson Ensemble, Fire! Orchestra and Wildhart, as well as releasing her own Hana – Three Bodies soundtrack album; and double-bass player Vilhelm Bromander, also busy on the Swedish recording scene with the likes of Axel Dörner, Tisha Mukarji, Katt Hernandez and Musette, to name a few.

Recorded in Stockholm’s Årsta Church, Bråsjö’s debut album comprises nine selections composed and arranged as though for a group of chamber musicians, but using contemporary jazzers to bring the score to life as it references science and the natural world. Blidväder (Thaw) opens on measured, classically flavoured piano passages, underscored by low bass lines before Runsteen’s violin insinuates itself into the mix. Archaeopteryx exercises a repeating staccato motif, broken occasionally by Bromander’s rumbling bass, followed by progressive piano passages and delicately picked violin, while I Jordens Mull (In Earth’s Soil) has an equally pensive mood, with an emphasis on Runsteen’s mandola.

The title track showcases the violin over an eerie, gothic, space-age organ background, evoking themes from old horror movies before building to a dramatic, discordant close. Cirrus lightens the mood by juxtaposing playful piano with rich, cello-like vibes and an underlying, padding rhythm. Elsewhere, Begravelse (Funeral) recalls Bach with plodding bass and wistful violin, Himlavalvets Mekanik (Celestial Mechanics) returns to the mournful organ tone of Stratosfär before employing more tasteful violin passages, and the closing Butterflux offers further fine, classically styled piano and pleasing violin work.

What constitutes jazz is a perennial question, but apart from some echoes of Jacques Loussier, there isn’t too much in evidence here. The works are quality, scored compositions played with great skill, but are predominantly classical in character and disciplined in execution, with limited improvisation. They are also largely slow, reflective and melancholy, making lighter, higher-tempo entries conspicuous by their absence. However, the many music fans attracted to this style of classical jazz will luxuriate in the album’s purity and vision.

Discography
Blidväder (Thaw); Archaeopteryx; I Jordens Mull (In Earth’s Soil); Stratosfär; Cirrus; Havet, Där Är Det (The Sea, There It Lies); Begravelse (Funeral); Himlavalvets Mekanik (Celestial Mechanics); Butterflux (39:51)
Bråsjö (p, org); Josefin Runsteen (v, mda, pc); Vilhelm Bromander (b). Stockholm, Sweden, 21-22 December, 2020.
Staffan Bråsjö SBO1