Dan Berglund - Bassman back from the lows


Dan Berglund had no ambitions of forming his own band. There was a clause in his record company’s contract that called for a solo album and he’d get round to that at some point. But he was quite happy, to put it mildly, just being the bass player in the most successful jazz group of the early twenty-first century. Then the unthinkable happened.


The death in June 2008 of Esbjorn Svensson, figurehead of E.S.T. and Berglund’s friend and colleague of fifteen years, hit the jazz world hard. Veterans of the music’s business side, long inured to learning of the loss of yet another valued musician, often through what’s inadequately referred to as the jazz life, reacted with shock. How could this apparently very fit man of forty-four have been lost in a diving accident?


At home in Stockholm, Berglund was desolate. Drawing his family around him, he stayed at home and withdrew from the world.


“I didn’t do anything for about six months,” he says. “I’d try to play the bass about once every week or so but I found that I didn’t want to play music. Then I’d sit at my computer and try to compose something but I couldn’t concentrate. It was a very hard time. But then, time passes and although I still miss Esbjorn and think about him every day, I feel much better now.”


Part of the healing process came through hooking up with another musician friend, Johan Lindstrom, a guitarist who also plays lap steel and pedal steel guitar, sounds that are about as far away as the bebop meets Radiohead approach of E.S.T. as it’s possible to get.


“It was funny,” says Berglund, “because we didn’t know what we wanted to do musically. We just wanted to start a band. I had a contract with Act Records, E.S.T.’s label, that meant I had to do a solo album. But I didn’t want to do a solo bass record or even be the main instrumentalist in a group. I didn’t even know what instruments should be in this new group. Then the first time Johan and I got together over at his apartment, we bonded very easily. It was very natural. I’d never written with another musician before and really, I’d never written professionally, just composed little songs as birthday presents for friends and family. The ideas we came up with, though, were serious. I mean, we were having fun doing it but they were proper tunes.”


Berglund’s six-month break following Svensson’s death was the first time he’d been away from music since the age of ten when he was given his first guitar. Within a year he was playing with his father, an accordionist who played regularly at weddings and parties around Ostersund in the north of Sweden, and in his teens he formed Dizzy, a rock band that played covers of Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath favourites as well as original songs.


Heavy rock still exercises a big pull – there was talk of putting a cover of Pearl Jam’s Reign o’er Me on his new band, Tonbruket’s first album – but the turning point in his career as a musician came when his music teacher at school suggested that he swap the bass guitar he was playing in Dizzy for a double bass.


This coincided with Berglund’s first encounter with jazz, through Weather Report’s Heavy Weather album, an experience that opened a door onto a wealth of – for him – new music and sent him to the practice room to get fully acquainted with this very physical new instrument. His hours of practice paid off with a job in the local state-run orchestra, which led to TV concerts, gigs with jazz bands big and small and eventually on to Stockholm to study with, among others, recent visitor to Scotland and former member of Keith Jarrett’s Scandinavian quartet, bassist Palle Danielsson.


Berglund fitted easily into the Stockholm music scene and it was while working with the jazz singer Lina Nyberg that he met Esbjorn Svensson who had plans for a trio with his childhood friend, drummer Magnus Ostrom. With his ability to replicate even the trickiest of Svensson’s left-hand parts – he looks back at basslines such as the sheer geography of When God Created the Coffeebreak with a boyish sense of triumph – and his eagerness to try electronic effects, Berglund became a massive part of E.S.T.’s sound and success.


In Tonbruket – it translates as sound factory – Berglund has purposefully kept away from electronic effects and although there’s a tribute to Svensson, the lovely Song for E, on the album they’ve just released, the music bears little resemblance to E.S.T.


“I wanted to get back to the natural sound of the bass because I was beginning to get a little tired of the sounds I was making electronically and since we have a guitarist in this band, I no longer have to be both bassist and guitarist, as I was at times with E.S.T.,” he says. “The other thing is that E.S.T., having been very popular, casts quite a big shadow. When we invited our piano player, Martin, into the band, he was quite nervous at first because he doesn’t play like Esbjorn and worried that he might not measure up and I had to tell him, no, we want you to play like you.”


With the album attracting favourable reviews and a short tour of Sweden having introduced the new band, Berglund feels that this is indeed a fresh start that could lead to something long-term.


“It feels like a band already and we just hope that people will come along with open minds, not expecting Tonbruker to be a new E.S.T. or something,” he says. “I hope jazz fans will like it but if we have to find a new audience, then we’ll do that. We’ll play to anybody who’ll listen.”


From The Herald, March 10, 2010.


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