With the use of electronics, rock tempos, and dramatic melodic excursions, the Esbjorn Svensson Trio brought about an innovative approach to the jazz piano trio, the New Piano Trio, and inspired a wave of followers in their wake. Unfortunately, Svensson’s tragic death in 2008 cut short our opportunity to discover where he’d, ultimately, take his sound.
This collection of songs, recorded during the session that produced the album Leucocyte, illustrate just how much music Svensson had left in him.
Your album personnel: Esbjorn Svensson (piano, electronics, transistor radio), Dan Berglund (double bass, electronics), and Magnus Ostrom (drums, electronics, voices).
It’s always a dodgy proposition to coalesce an album around the tracks originally discarded from consideration the first time around. Its success hinges, primarily, on how the “original” album’s tracks were selected: Was it based on attaining a consistent identity or were the tracks chosen based on encapsulating a range of sound and emotion?
Leucocyte had a menacing presence, even during its quieter moments. Svensson’s piano notes had the shine of blades recently sharpened. There were visible veins popping up off the muscles of Bergstrom’s bass lines. Ostrom played the drums like he was cool just sitting in place, but was ready to pounce at the first opportunity to fight.
301 displays an alternate personality. It’s an album of relaxed demeanor, of keeping cool during tense moments, of kicking back and appreciating life as it comes. Whereas Leucocyte makes a statement, 301 is content to let the message become whatever the music makes of it.
“Inner City, City Lights” shines out from behind a hazy fog. The corresponding sizzle of electronic effects and rising sun harmonization counterbalance the straight-forward stroll of piano, drums, and bass.
The thing about E.S.T. is that it was first and foremost a jazz piano trio. The electronics didn’t come in heavy doses until later. Early E.S.T. still had all the dramatic tension and lilting melodies, but didn’t throw themselves into the tech experiments until later. A track like “The Left Lane” shows E.S.T. in that early form, sans effects, full-on jazz trio, a tune that builds up intensity, then lets it gently crash on the shore.
The trio of tunes “Houston the 5th” and “Three Falling Free Parts 1 & 2” may as well have come as a set. It begins with “Houston’s” abrasive electronic sizzle, which by itself would be out of place on the album, but in that it transitions so delicately into the gentle drift of “Part 1,” the effect would have been poorer without the dissonant lead-in. No less dramatically, the stillness of “Part 1″ transmutes into the electric ferocity of “Part 2″, which begins as a slow burn, Svensson’s piano providing the kindling, a flame which grows stronger with the crackle of Ostrom’s ferocious drumming, then rages out of control with electronic licks and distorted live wires of notes. The end comes like a bonfire collapsing down into itself, the branches and supports become ashes, the crackle of wood snapping in half, and smoke rising up to the sky.
The album ends the way it began. “Behind the Stars” and “The Childhood Dream” are peaceful drifting tunes, without pretension, the sort of soul-bearing honesty that good piano trios are capable of. And in the light of the fact that the last song on the album is likely the last new song we’ll hear from this trio, the final lullaby tune has a poignancy beyond the music itself.
Ultimately, 301 doesn’t rank as one of the top E.S.T. albums recorded, but it’s a splendid recording, and fans of the trio should be happy for this one last glimpse into their music.
Released on the ACT Music label.