Jazz CD Reviews

Esbjörn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.) – 301 – ACT

The final material from the Esbjörn Svensson Trio escalates from tenderness to distortion and back again.

Published on June 7, 2012

Esbjörn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.) – 301 – ACT

Esbjörn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.) – 301 – ACT 9029-2, 61:02 [3/30/12] ****:

(Esbjörn Svensson – grand piano, electronics, transistor radio; Dan Berglund – double bass, electronics; Magnus Öström – drums, voices, electronics)

301 is the new album from the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (known to fans as e.s.t., with the preferred lower case usage of the acronym). Which probably comes as strange information, since pianist Svensson passed away at age 44 in 2008. Unlike many posthumous releases, 301 is not a haphazard collection of outtakes and alternate versions of older pieces, nor is 301 a concert document. This is a bona-fide batch of fresh material, recorded during the same sessions at Studio 301 (hence the CD title) in Sydney, Australia, which generated e.s.t.’s previous record, Leucocyte, a project which incorporated electronic and processed sounds within a jazz trio setup.  These seven tracks, all originals, might have been produced differently had Svensson been available during the mixing and mastering, but nevertheless the trio’s arrangements and creativity mirror the melding of acoustic instrumentation and electronica which pervaded Leucocyte. The genesis for this final e.s.t. album occurred in late 2011, when bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström revisited their unissued music and collaborated with engineer Åke Linton to prepare 301.

Svensson starts on solo piano for the elegiac “Behind the Stars,” where he plays a single note and then intersperses and overlies that note with simple chords. Svensson continues his Bach-like meditation with gentle keyboard touches and supple use of his foot pedal, and later a graceful arco bass and processed electronics course along as a placid underpinning. “Behind the Stars” transitions smoothly into “Inner City, City Lights,” a 12-minute excursion of pastel fuzz tones, groove bass, feathery feedback and a droning, looped choir-like vocal effect. The track has a Brad Mehldau meets Brian Eno-esque ambiance with Svensson’s piano eventually striking up some dust. Post-production digitization also swells through the eerie science fiction cut, “Houston, the 5th,” (no melody or rhythm found here) which sounds more like left-field experimental electronic group Matmos than anything else.

The Esbjörn Svensson Trio has progressed from early jazz efforts such as 1996’s When Everyone Has Gone to the introspective and surrealistic quality of subsequent records such as 2005’s Viaticum. But throughout, e.s.t. has maintained their jazz roots, and that side is well represented during 13-minute-plus “The Left Lane,” a straightforward, up-tempo piano trio outing akin to Keith Jarrett or Chick Corea, highlighted by Svensson’s swiftly flowing improvisations and an expansive double bass solo by Berglund, accentuated by Öström’s blithe brushes and animated sticks. Jarrett’s influence can also be heard during the initial opener of a two-part medley for “Three Falling Free.” The first section, at nearly six minutes, has a poetic interface which is both intimate and cinematic; with light percussion leading the way alongside Berglund on bass, who is reminiscent of Ron Carter. The second portion has an unrestricted, more customized approach, a track which has a standalone loose embroidery of acoustic and electric components which roar and rush, and create dense walls of raw reverberation: often the music is nearer to Radiohead or Deerhoof, with clashing distortion and volatility. The closest analogy might be the Chicago Underground Trio’s fractured asymmetrical work. The closing cut, “The Childhood Dream,” completely switches gears, and is comparable to the whispered and wistful characteristics of “Three Falling Free Part I.” Berglund’s bass treads sensitively, while Svensson is mellifluous and melodic (and vocally hums just like Jarrett). Öström adds hand percussion to heighten this track’s sympathetic and affectionate aspects.

TrackList: Behind the Stars; Inner City, City Lights; The Left Lane; Houston, the 5th; Three Falling Free Part I; Three Falling Free Part II; The Childhood Dream.

—Doug Simpson




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