Dennis Egberth ‘Dennis Egberths Första’ LP (DEg.) 4/5

Dennis Egberth is a drummer and composer based in Stockholm. His eclectic work spans jazz, improvised music, avant-garde, alternative pop and post-punk. “Dennis Egberths Första” is his first album as a band leader; the first released through his own label DEg.

It’s the autumn of 2018 and, from Egberth’s apartment in southern Stockholm, new compositions dawn as bleary-eyed, low volume piano explorations opportuned by his benevolently sleeping, newborn baby. As the musical ideas evolve so does his notion of a record. That notion eventually becoming reality in Örnsbergs Musikstudio on 16 February 2020 with the help of Katt Hernandez (violin), Isak Hedtjärn (clarinet), Johan Graden (keyboards) and Vilhelm Bromander (double bass).

The output of that year and a half of creativity stimulates my intellectual-emotional-intersection sweet spot. It’s composed music but it has an improvisational fizz. Sonically, I’d approximate it as an acoustic meeting of Don Byron’s early/mid-90s and Brahja’s now – strongly timbral like Brahja with the early/mid 20th-century avant-gardism of Byron.

“Palo Santo” drifts in as shards of light, abstract reflections off a mirror. Hedtjärn’s leisurely, breathy motif repeats as the band warmly coalesce around it before an ascendant, accelerating climb agitatedly stumbles and fights to regain its balance. Hedtjärn and his motif return to absentmindedly mollify.

“Syrinx” is initially folksy bonhomie with Hernandez and Hedtjärn romantically waltzing and Graden cascading the shimmer. Graden then goes on a staccato exploration as Egberth surges and relents before a purposeful, amorous return to the intro.

“Magenta” is touched by autumnal reflection and melancholy. The musicians are one powerful, compelling voice, recounting an emotionally escalating monologue of a complex, unbeaten life that has admirably coped thus far. “Sjösabrinken” slows proceedings but continues the mood as Hernandez’s bewitchingly uncanny violin touchingly reaches out.

“Leijona” and “Lophorina” shift seasons, now offering a springtime optimism; less reflective, more living in that delightful moment. “Leijona” is a swinging party, “Lophorina” a glorious, butterflies, birds and stirring sunlight through trees revelry.

The charming closer, “180908”, is impassioned, deeply affecting and ultimately rousing. Graden’s Satie-tickled tinklings and ardent articulations are made more expressive by the sublimely tender yet elevating overlays his bandmates generously float, layer upon layer.

“Dennis Egberths Första” is a remarkable first outing by Dennis Egberth. It is an album for today that has absorbed much of yesterday. It is considered and intelligent but is in no way free of juicy frisson. It throws down orchestral avant-gardism and freeish jazz but delivers it with accessible furniture music, European folk sensibilities. And it tells human stories about lived experiences; stories that we are asked to rewrite for ourselves, about ourselves or perhaps others. If Egberth’s första is anything to go by I cannot wait to hear what he does nästa.

Ian Ward