Ten years on from the tragic death of Esbjörn Svensson
, it's easy to forget just how ground-breaking e.s.t. was. Its seamless embrace of jazz, pop, rock and electronics aesthetics brought CD sales and a following more typical of successful pop acts. It was also the first European jazz band on the cover of Downbeat. Easy to forget, too, how influential the trio remains. Countless times, when a new a piano trio presents itself, the back-handed compliment is offered: 'Oh, they sound a bit e.s.t.-ish.' Whether consciously or not, numerous piano trios have followed the path blazed by Svensson, Dan Berglund
and Magnus Ostrom
This double-CD captures e.s.t. in sparkling form in London's Barbican Centre in May, 2005. Half the ten tracks are from Viaticum
(ACT Music, 2005), released earlier that year, with the remainder from Strange Place for Snow
(Superstudio Gul/ACT Music, 2002) and Seven Days of Falling
(215 Music/Munich Records, 2004) and Viaticum was the penultimate release before the experimental leap of the posthumously released Leucocyte
(ACT Music, 2008), and this London concert reveals the slow, but steady evolution in the band's live dynamics prior to that. One constant, however, was e.s.t.'s democratic nature, with Svensson the nominal leader in a trio where co-writing credits were the norm, and where Berglund and Öström shouldered equal weight in defining the band's unique sound.
This equilibrium is clear from the get-go with "Tide of Temptation," where strong melody, bottom-end groove and Ostrum's trademark, propulsive brush-work frame Svensson's searching improvisation. Svensson was no Keith Jarrett
an acknowledged influencebut his language was arguably more lyrical, more emotive
than many more technically equipped pianists. When in full improvisational flow, as on the baroque-influenced "When God Created the Coffee Break," there were few more exciting jazz pianists either. The extremes in dynamics that made e.s.t.'s live shows so absorbingand the band's appeal so broadare displayed to full effect on this, the band's fifth live release.
From the Bach-like serenity of "Viaticum" to the caressing lyricism of "In the Tail of Her Eye"with Öström's brushes as light as mizzle on leavesand from the pulsating, interlocking rhythms of "Mingle in The Mincing Machine," with Berglund's punkish, fuzz-toned arco to the foreto the deft trio balladry of "Believe, Beleft Below," the stylistic juxtapositions are striking. Frequently, Svensson and Berglund are inseparable on the heads, which are often greeted by the Barbican crowd with cheers of recognition more in keeping with a rock gig.
"Mingle in the Mincing Machine," "The Unstable Table and the Infamous Fable" and "Behind The Yashmak," weighing in at fourteen, twelve and seventeen minutes respectively, underline e.s.t.'s propensity to stretch out. The extended vamps, Svensson's tumbling, blues-cum-classically-tinged improvisations, Berglund's electric bowingas bold and beautiful as Jimi Hendrix
's feedbackpropelled by Öström's industry, provide thrilling antidotes to the trio's more carefully orchestrated, tunes-based repertoire. There are more subtle atmospherics at play as well, like the electronic soundscaping that accompanies an Öström's drum feature and his use of skin on skins, or Svensson's manipulation of the piano innards that conjures zither-like textures.
The grooving "Spunky Sprawl" rounds out the set on a high note, with extended solos from all, the highlight being Svensson's freewheeling, bluesy charge. Following the crowd ovation, a minute or so of post-concert buzz is captured. It's fitting, after all, a decade on from e.s.t.'s demise, that the buzz surrounding that wonderful Swedish trio continues to sound.