Playon Crayon: free jazz improvisation with a light and playful touch

Elsa Bergman, Playon Crayon, Sweden, Bergman Inspelningar, BI004 CD (2023)

On days when you need relaxing music with a light touch, yet intriguing enough to capture all your attention and keep your mind occupied with where the sounds are all going, Stockholm-based free jazz improviser Elsa Bergman’s most recent release “Playon Crayon” ticks all the relevant boxes and then some. The light and playful theme is reflected not just in the album’s title, suggestive of children’s drawing activities, but also in the choice of album cover and its bright colours and patterns. The compositions and improvisations are inspired by a series of watercolour paintings and crayon drawings Bergman did, just after the birth of her first child, and certainly their style has a very playful and child-like quality.

For this album, Bergman brought together four other musicians including Susana Santos Silva (whose solo album I reviewed some months ago) on trumpet to perform eight compositions by Bergman herself. All these other players and especially Santos Silva, guitarist David Stacken√§s and violinist Katt Hernandez can be heard very clearly but Bergman, playing double bass, seems to be quite low, almost inconspicuous, in the mix. It’s as if Bergman relishes more the role of invisible Olympian eminence grise, overseeing how the godlings she has assembled around her carry out her plans, and giving them a prodding or two to encourage them. Off they go, playing and wandering together up hill and down dale, and having a good time as they do so. On “Kaleidoscope I”, the musicians are warming up and getting used to one another’s company but by the time they finish second track “Rosmarie”, they clearly have had a whale of a great time and sound as if they had too much to drink because they’re traipsing all over the place with wavering trumpet sound and seesaw violin. At the end, Bergman steps in to clear them all off and sober them up for the next track.

Most tracks are quite short and all have their distinct moods which can sometimes be a bit dark and uneasy. Track titles like “The Sea” and “Phone Cords” can be descriptive of the music featured: “The Sea” especially does conjure up a vision of seagulls flapping over the ocean and squawking as they fight for tidbits floating on the ocean surface and “Phone Cords” gives hints of a communication breakdown or someone put on hold for a long time. One of the shorter tracks on the album, “Heartbeats” is a hard-working little critter, puffing away and sniffing in all dusty corners like an inquisitive puppy.

The five musicians work very well together and individually, and perhaps they’ll all come back together soon for a sequel to this album.