CD REVIEW: Esbjörn Svensson Trio - e.s.t. live in London




Esbjörn Svensson Trio - e.s.t. live in London
(ACT 9042-2. CD review by Adrian Pallant)


For many, e.s.t. (the Esbjörn Svensson Trio) were a truly seminal force in music. Translating the relative simplicity of a piano trio into an outfit which could energize the pulse or melt the heart with dewdrop tenderness, they spawned and influenced a generation of bands which followed. The Swedish friends broke down the barriers of genre with such conviction that non-jazzers were also drawn to their arguably unique synthesis of jazz, rock and classical sounds. So when pianist Esbjörn Svensson tragically died on 14 June 2008, there was profound grief – on an international scale.

Bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström slowly began to pick up the shattered pieces, establishing new projects; and, because e.s.t. eschewed the status quo when it came to their albums releases and thrilling live shows, fans wondered what might still lie "on the cutting room floor" or, more likely, have been lovingly archived by ACT Music’s boss Siggi Loch and sound engineer Åke Linton. Two completely improvised studio albums, Leucocyte and 301 (released after Svensson’s untimely death), offered a glimpse of where the trio were heading next, and the recent E.S.T. Symphony project realised the influential pianist’s orchestral vision for their compositions. Eleven studio recordings provide an astonishing legacy (interesting to revisit and recall just how revolutionary they sounded through the ‘90s into the ‘noughties’) and concerts were special, drawing huge, attentive crowds. Their early E.S.T. Live ’95 and especially 2007’s acclaimed double album E.S.T. Live in Hamburg captured something of that essence, particularly how they intuitively developed improvisation beyond usual studio-album confines.

Now, poignantly coinciding with the centenary of Esbjörn’s passing, e.s.t. live in London is unveiled, garnered from their sell-out 2005 gig at London’s Barbican Centre. It’s a 106-minute immersion into their Strange Place for Snow (2002), Seven Days of Falling (2003) and Viaticum (2005) period – when the world outside of Scandinavia also began to take note of this rising phenomenon; and significantly, for enthusiasts, only one of these ten tracks has appeared on the previous live issues. Even with an expectation of the alchemy between Svensson, Berglund and Öström, the spine-tingling magic is still apparent, particularly under close scrutiny.

Touring the Viaticum material at this point (five of its tracks fill most of the first of two CDs), a rapturous welcome heralds Tide of Trepidation, its ominously-building groove falling away to spotlight Svensson’s incredible focus at the grand piano – easy to imagine him hunched low over the keyboard, rocking as he sensitively summons and crafts each new idea. Eighty-Eight Days in My Veins’ memorable, pulsating melodies (driven by Berglund’s electrified arco bass and Östrom’s distinctive percussive rhythms) inspire babbling high-wire piano, contrasted by Viaticum’s lachrymose poise and the charming lounge-jazz ‘easy’ of In the Tail of Her Eye. Both Mingle in the Mincing-Machine and The Unstable Table & the Infamous Fable (Öström was reportedly the main creative on titles) stretch out to display the whole panoply of e.s.t.’s mercurial character.

The 17-minute Behind the Yashmak is complemented by the simple, reverential beauty of Believe, Beleft, Below – a favourite, whose original also had an alternative version with lyric, which Svensson interprets here as if discovering for the very first time. This second CD is bookended by popular showstoppers: the Bachian wonder of When God Created the Coffeebreak, with its breathtakingly rapid, extended ground bass shared by Svensson and Berglund; and the delicious exuberance of the bluesy, piano-rag-like Spunky Sprawl clearly delights the audience (throughout this album, there’s just enough ambience to share in the live experience).

It’s not unheard of for jazz piano trios to lack progression or originality, ploughing a similar furrow year on year. But with e.s.t., there was always the sense of leaping ahead over conventional boundaries, each new release or gig intoducing engaging sonic blends, all delivered with enthralling technical prowess. For aficionado or newcomer, e.s.t. live in London has it all, in glorious technicolor.

Released this Friday, 11 May, from ACT Music.

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