Let's get the obligatory background recap out of the way first. The Esbjorn Svensson
Trio was a one-of-a-kind outfit, their DNA encompassing an amorphous pop-classical-jazz-tronica mix that made all those things co-exist so naturally it was almost unnatural. For all their bold experimentalism in disregarding genres, sculpting song structures and often integrating processed sounds into the piano-trio format, e.s.t. stayed eminently approachable to listeners of vastly different stripes. The distinct alchemy helped them build a remarkable degree of acclaim through the jazz world and beyond, which has lasted and grown after Svensson's sudden drowning in a June 2008 SCUBA-diving accident.
And although it's sad to be commemorating the anniversary of that loss, this splendid release should bring a ray of happiness to old and new listeners alike. e.s.t. live in London
captures the band on a magical evening when everything went right. Half the program came from the new-at-the-time Viaticum
(ACT, 2005), with the remainder only a couple years older. The trio always loved taking everything beyond how it sounded on record; even the brand-new pieces weren't performed so much as explored, stretched and treated as springboards for some wondrous flights.
In the live environment these compositions would blossom and breathe like living organisms. The eastern-European chamber-ish vamp of "Tide of Trepidation" subtly smolders with just a hint of gypsy tango. "Mingle in the Mincing-Machine" goes equally playful and loud instead; Dan Berglund
amps up his upright bass with wah-wah and electric fuzz for a fairly wild showcase, until Svensson eventually takes back the reins. His rock-and-roll juice has a superb match in Magnus Ostrom
, who stays right alongside in stoking the heaviest moments to a boil and knowing just when to simmer instead (not to mention creating one abstract soundscape passage for the weirdest moment of the night).
As they navigate a dizzying set of swoops and glides, the sharpness of e.s.t.'s ESP only bolsters their anything-goes spirit of improv to further heights. Each extended flight is a marvel of interplay and evocative emotion, usually building to multiple exciting peaks, roiling and crashing with the wildness of sea waves, then inevitably ebbing back towards eloquent quietude. Even after that rollercoaster of a set, it's the gorgeous Keith Jarrett
-tinged Americana of "Believe, Beleft, Below" that's arguably the highlight of the affair, though the bluesy bounce of the final encore makes an even more compelling sendoff.
It was a top-notch moment among all the steady forward steps that made up the trio's extensive yet too-short career. They'd come a long way from the (mostly) conventionally jazzy Live '95
(ACT, 1995) and would keep exploring further afield with Live in Hamburg
(ACT, 2007). It may seem a bit baffling that there haven't been more live albums from an outfit so legendary for live performancesbut of course, that's all the more reason to treasure each one we have. e.s.t. live in London
makes a most welcome addition to the catalogue, and provides another exquisite reminder of why Svensson and e.s.t. still stand never imitated and dearly missed.
CD1: Tide of Trepidation; Eighty-Eight Days in My Veins; Viaticum; Mingle in the Mincing-Machine; In the Tail of Her Eye; The Unstable Table & the Infamous Fable. CD2: When God Created the Coffeebreak; Behind the Yashmak; Believe, Beleft, Below; Spunky Sprawl.
Esbjörn Svensson: piano; Dan Berglund: bass; Magnus Öström: drums.