ACT: 20 Years of Magical Music
The importance of e.s.t. can hardly be underestimated. With its use of rock and electronic music within the framework of the classic piano trio, the group has played an important role in re-defining how jazz can sound. Svensson's trio is a rare example of an experimental group which has become a bestseller and crossed into pop without selling out of its values.
The musical history of e.s.t. is nicely summed up on the album Retrospective: The Very Best of e.s.t. (ACT, 2009) which covers all of the manifold expressions of the trio. It also includes a piece from what was thought to be the group's last recording, the posthumous Leucocyte (ACT, 2008). However, the same sessions that produced that album have been reexamined and the surviving members, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom, have pieced together another album which immediately inscribes itself into the canon of the trio.
301 is an album that sees the group as true modernistic innovators and explorers of sound. The epic "Inner City, City Lights" is a case in point with its hypnotic bass pattern and synthetic choir, while "The Left Lane" is as close to classic swing as the trio gets. "Three Falling Free Part I" on the other hand, creates a complex landscape of electronic reverb, fuzz-bass and classical ornamentation.
It is sad to think about what the group could have done if it had been allowed more time, but in spite of Svensson's tragic death, the legacy of the group is already firmly established and 311 is a proof that the trio continued to expand its palette of sound until its untimely dissolution.
Vijay Iyer Trio
Vijay Iyer is another pianist on the ACT label whose trio has helped to define the sound of postmodern jazz. Iyer has an encyclopedic knowledge of music theory and tradition, but in spite of the intellectual appeal of his playing, he also taps deep into a bodily groove together with his trio of bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore.
This is especially on apparent on Accelerando, whose philosophical foundation is the discovery of sound through bodily action. As Iyer writes in the liner notes: "Music is action: the sound of bodies in motion. When we hear a rhythm, we imagine the act that gave rise to it. Some call it neural mirroring, or empathy. Music and dance are linked in this way: bodies listening to bodies. If music has ever moved you, then you already know."
The trio beautifully translates theory into action as it weaves a wild collage of spellbinding, rhythmical grooves that cover a wide span of history, ranging from Duke Ellington's little heard "The Village of the Virgins" to Michael Jackson's smash hit "Human Nature" played in the trio's joyfully idiosyncratic version. All in all, Accelerando is the perfect example of ACT's ability to combine complexity and a direct emotional appeal that sets that mind as well as the body into motion.
Michael Wollny's [em]
Wasted & Wanted
If Esbjörn Svensson represents the past and Vijay Iyer the present in ACT's canon of pianists, then the future belongs to the German pianist Michael Wollny and his trio with bassist Eva Kruse and drummer Eric Schaefer. Together they perform under the moniker Michael Wollny's [em] and their musical curiosity knows no limits.
Wasted & Wanted shows the eclectic nature of the trio's music, encompassing everything from classical to techno. The liner notes quote the artist Daniel Richter: "Beauty through confusion, truth through collision." This truly sums up the aesthetic of the group, where different musical worlds collide and melt into a singular expression.
Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. V, Mov 1: Trauermarsch" is transformed into a forceful and brooding groove, with Wollny hammering away on the keys, while "Das Modell" is an unlikely melodic exploration of Kraftwerk's techno classic.
While the covers are interesting, the majority of the album is dedicated to the group's own originals and this is not a bad idea since the writing of all three members is top-notch. For instance, Schaefer's "Kulintang" creates its own universe of bell-like percussion complimented by Kruse's discrete bass lines and Wollny's gentle waves of piano.
Wasted & Wanted is a perfect example of how ACT constantly seeks to enhance the understanding of generic boundaries. The credo of many of the label's musicians seems to be, "everything is possible," and when everything is possible, true musical magic can happen.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: El Vito Cante; Tangos; Entre Tinieblas; Tanguillo; Soy Gitano; Buleria; Suite Fraternidad; El Vito En Gran Tamaño.