The bassist’s role in a jazz group is often defined by their relationship to their fellow instrumentalists – as the backbone of the band, the bridge between frontline and rhythm section, the timekeeper, the anchor, the bedrock. Bruno Råberg has played those roles expertly over the course of a career lasting nearly 50 years, releasing a dozen albums as a leader and becoming an in-demand collaborator for a wide array of artists including Kris Davis, Donny McCaslin, George Garzone, Tiger Okoshi, Ben Monder, Matt Wilson, Mike Mainieri, Adam Cruz, Bob Moses, Sam Rivers, Kenny Werner, Terri Lyne Carrington, Jerry Bergonzi, and many others.
With Look Inside, Råberg goes it alone for the first time with his debut album for solo bass. The depth and diversity of the music he’s recorded reflect the wealth of experiences and studies he’s undertaken over the course of his journey, from investigations of jazz standards to explorations of Indian and African traditions, free improvisation to through-composed chamber music. Due out May 19, 2023, Look Inside is a new venture for the veteran bassist, but also stands as a capstone to an eclectic and adventurous career.
The title is an apt one for such an introspective effort, as Råberg writes in his liner notes. “As I was embarking on this project I asked myself a lot of questions. Who am I playing for? How will the listener perceive this? Will the listener hear what I hear? My approach ended up shaping the music by trying to imagine a dialogue with you, the imagined listener.”
While a solo bass project was a long-held aspiration, Råberg had rarely performed and never recorded wholly on his own, which meant finding a form that made sense for a full album. Experimenting in his home studio outside of Boston, where he is a professor at Berklee College of Music, Råberg at first found himself overcompensating for the lack of collaborators, overindulging in lengthy solos and crowding the empty space surrounding him. “I had to be very self-critical,” he explains. “I was playing too much. It was fun, but I felt that it wouldn’t make sense to the listener. I tried to distill things down more and more to their essence. Otherwise it could become one of those albums that only another bass player would listen to.”
Look Inside suffers from none of that, standing as a passionately musical experience that is rich, expressive, and eclectic enough to command one’s attention from beginning to end. Råberg “aimed to play in a way that would make a composition sound like it is an improvisation and an improvisation like it is a composition,” and the seams between the two are rarely detectable. That can be credited in part to the material that Råberg wrote and selected for the album as well as the challenges that he set for himself with each piece. But mostly it’s due to his own impeccable taste and his agile eloquence on the bass.
The album begins with Råberg navigating through “Island Pathways,” for which he created a series of brief motives that are bridged with improvisation. It’s a compelling piece of storytelling, with key points woven into a vibrant tapestry. Råberg’s knowledge of African music and ability to transform the sound of his instrument come to the fore on “Kansala,” in which he evokes the sound of the African kalimba. The Swedish-born bassist traveled to West Africa for the first time at the age of 22, later living for two years with an African percussionist in Stockholm. The piece melds two primary inspirations, leading directly into a rendition of Miles Davis’ classic “Nardis,” which Råberg first heard via Bill Evans’ Sunday at the Village Vanguard.
That album played a key role in shaping Råberg’s sonic imagination. Having grown up in the Swedish countryside, he moved to Stockholm at 20 after being discovered by the influential trombonist Eje Thelin. “It was a pretty tumultuous time,” Råberg recalls of the period, when he suddenly found himself touring Europe and playing the Monterey Jazz Festival. “I had a dingy apartment with no furniture, but I had a tape recorder and one tape. It had Sunday at the Village Vanguard on one side and the kora of music of Jali Nayama Suso from Gambia on the other.”
Both sides of that oft-played cassette proved instrumental for Råberg, who later met and played with Suso. The Gershwin favorite “My Man’s Gone Now” is the second tune on the Evans trio album, and the bassist set out to recreate his memory of discovering the piece with his rapturous version of the song. It, along with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s “Prelude to a Kiss,” showcase the nimble lyricism of which Råberg is uniquely capable.
“Chennai Reminiscence” reflects on Råberg’s time studying in India, drawing on a descending line from a South Indian classical composition as its starting point, with the bassist’s bow summoning sinuous violin-like lines, percussive rhythms, and vivid harmonies. “A Minor Excursion” and “June Poem” are classically influenced pieces, mostly or wholly through-composed. “Gyrating Spheres,” conversely, is a free improvisation utilizing three different approaches to the bass. “A Space in Between” is an improvised variation on an improvised theme from a film created by the bassist’s daughter, Erika Råberg. “Ode to Spring” and “Stillness – Epilogue” are both mood pieces, the one bristling and joyous, the other meditative and searching.
Look Inside represents a lifetime of musical exploration and evolution, from Råberg’s beginnings in the Swedish countryside, to his deep-end education in Stockholm and across Europe, to his life in the States beginning in 1981. In the end, the album is a singularly personal statement. “I feel like it sounds like me,” Råberg concludes. “Like all musicians I’ve gone through the process of emulating and learning from other players. Now I just play and trust that whatever happens, that is my sound.”
Bruno Råberg is an internationally renowned bass player and composer. Since coming to the US from his native Sweden in 1981, he has made 13 recordings as a leader, about 30 as a sideman, and has performed with numerous world-class artists, including Kris Davis, Terri Lyne Carrington, Jerry Bergonzi, George Garzone, Kenny Werner, Sam Rivers, Tony Malaby, Billy Pierce, Donny McCaslin, Billy Hart, Bob Moses, Mick Goodrick, Ben Monder, Bruce Barth, Jim Black, Matt Wilson, Ted Poor, Bob Mintzer, and Mike Mainieri. He currently leads several constellations of his own Bruno Råberg Trio and the Triloka Ensemble. At 20 Råberg was drafted by Swedish trombone virtuoso Eje Thelin and spent the ensuing years performing and recording with renowned Swedish and European artists such as Bobo Stenson, Monica Zetterlund, Zpigniew Seifert, Nils Landgren and Ulf Wakenius. In 1981, Råberg left his performing career in Europe to come to the USA, thanks to a scholarship to the New England Conservatory in Boston. There he studied with Miroslav Vitous, Mick Goodrick, George Russell, and Bob Moses. Råberg has been a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston since 1986 and teaches in the prestigious Berklee Global Jazz Institute, led by pianist Danilo Perez.