Bragr Live at Engelsholm Castle
Go' Danish Folk
Review by Chris Nickson
Live albums can create and cement an artist’s reputation. When they manage to fully capture the intense, sweaty atmosphere of a gig, they’re electrifying, as James Brown discovered decades ago. While the audience can make a live disc with their energy, sometimes their enthusiasm can be go over top – as it does here with the clapping out of time that opens this album from the Danish/Swedish quarter Bragr.
It’s unfortunate, but once it passes, the music really takes over and soars. It’s certainly an ambitious gesture to record a live concert for your second release, but musically it pays off handsomely. Their debut was as a trio of fretless acoustic bass, percussion, and nyckelharpa/cister (a six-string lute). Since then they’ve added pianist Kristian Bisgaard, who proves an idea foil for Perry Stenbäck’s strings (and he is a master, highly in-demand as a guitarist and voted Musician of the Year in last year’s Danish Music Awards). It gives the band more texture, and they have more instruments that can take the lead individually or play off each other.
Hearing them live, it quickly becomes apparent that Bragr are actually jazz musicians in folk clothing. They use the largely original compositions as springboards for improvisation, as with “Dovretollet,” where the music spirals, dancing so far on the edge that it almost comes apart, before gathering itself to swoop back down.
There’s a great deal of delicacy here, too, and some genuinely surprising touches, like the overtone singing from bassist Jesper Frost Bylling that adds delicious filigree to “Trall/Kong Humble,” with Bisgaard and percussionist Christine Dueholm handling the vocals.
"Hommage Til En Spelman"
The members all have some background in folk music, making it the starting point and giving them the restraint to do justice to a tune like “Hommage Til En Spelman” without the need to add more.
Throughout, the mood crackles, and they all perform out of their skins, nigh on perfect; the gamble of recording a live album definitely pays off; the freedom of a gig truly suits them. It’s when they can cut loose, even on a slow piece like “Gladlåten” and let themselves break out from being folk into the jazz that’s at their heart (with some very tasty cister playing) that it becomes superbly distinctive.
And they do indulge the crowd with "Hornfiffen," a hornpipe that keeps pushing faster, and gives solo space to the players; it's just a shame there's no mute button for an audience clapping out of time again. At least, by the breakneck ending, with Stenbäck forcing the pace all the way to breakneck, they can't keep up – but they do, justly, demand an encore, and the softness of "Vintertur" sends everyone home happy.
The music is wonderful. It lifts the heart. But if they repeat the experiment, I hope they stop the audience from trying to clap along. - Chris Nickson