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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Elsa Bergaman - Playon Crayon (Bergman Inspelningar, 2023)

By Eyal Hareuveni

Swedish double bass player-composer-improviser Elsa Bergman encountered graphic scores in Anna Högberg’s Attack! And in her trio with pianist Lisa Ullén and drummer Anna Lund, and with Mats Gustafsson’s Fire! Orchestra’s Actions (adapting graphic scores by Krzysztof Penderecki) and Echoes as well as with Per-Åke Holmlander’s Carliot—It’s Never Too Late Orchestra and Anthony Braxton’s Tri-Centric Orchestra. During these experiences, Bergman realized that she always visualized music, especially when she was improvising, and even more so after she gave birth to her daughter.

And, indeed, there is a child-like simplicity to the graphic scores of Playon Crayon that attempt to liberate Bergamn’s natural tendency for playing with time in more fluid ways. Bergman composed these scores in order to find new directions for her music, while still maintaining the feel of freedom and improvisation. She chose like-minded comrades to realize this adventurous experience - Norwegian percussionist Matilda Rolfsson, whom Bergman befriended while studying in Trondheim; Portuguese trumpeter Susanna Santos Silva who worked with Bergman in the Fire! Orchestra and Holmlander and Braxton’s projects; American ex-pat violinist Katt Hernandez and guitarist David Stackenäs, to whom Bergman has listened to since she was in high school and with whom she finally had the chance to work.

The quintet recorded Bergamn’s new compositions in a first-time gathering at Fylkingen in Stockholm in August 2021. Bergman envisioned the music as a circular journey illustrated by the overlapping, patterned spheres of the “Kaleidoscope”. Each musician was assigned a specific color-coded part—red for Silva, yellow for Stackenäs, green for Hernandez, purple for Rolfsson, and blue for Bergman. But apart from briefly explaining her ideas and providing some loose directions, the musicians were asked to bring their own imaginations to the performances.

The chamber music of Playon Crayon is indeed kaleidoscopic and cyclical with overlapping patterns, often subversive and fragmented. The music avoids common genre conventions or familiar compositional strategies but operates with its own inner logic, and sounds fresh, urgent and engaging. Bergman used hybrid notation on “Rosemarie,” led by the inspired guitar playing of Stackenäs and her double bass playing, and composed as an homage to a friend. The colorful and often geometric graphic scores - included in the booklet - demand a highly playful kind of imagination that highlights the strong individual voices of this ensemble. All the pieces are performed with intriguing, poetic sensibility. And as Peter Margasak writes in his insightful liner notes, “A sharp listener can deduce the relationships and perhaps create a graphic score of their own to map out the sounds”. We can ask for more from this excellent ensemble as it dives deeper into Bergman’s adventurous musical vision.