Before Esbjorn Svensson's tragic death in 2008
there were clear signs that e.s.t. was hungry to explore new musical terrain; Leucocyte
(ACT Records, 2008), the trio's live-in-the-studio improvisation with its metal-jazz thunder, brooding electronics and epic excursions was proof of that. However, five years previously, Svensson, Dan Berglund
and Magnus Ostrom
had played a handful of dates in Europe with chamber orchestras, an experiment that hinted at the trio's desire to explore the music in an altogether different arena. If Svensson had indeed harboured orchestral ambitions then he'd likely be content at Berglund and Öström's efforts in realizing E.S.T. Symphony
, a lustrous recording that captures the essence of Svensson's trio while magnifying its epic qualities.
Berglund and Öström have played e.s.t.'s music with various European orchestras since 2013, with guest soloists of the calibre of Kurt Rosenwinkel
, Mathias Eick
, Jacky Terrasson
, Alex Sipiagin
and Yuri Honing
, but this recording is very much an all-Scandinavian affair. The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Hans Ekwho has previously arranged the music of Pink Floyd
, Bjork and The Kronos Quartetand is joined by soloists Iiro Rantala
, Marius Neset
, Verneri Pohjola
and pedal steel guitarist Johan Lindstrom
-the latter a member of Berglund's Tonbrucket
. Ek's arrangements echo the defining characteristics of e.s.t.'s musicthe minimalist gravitas, refined lyricism, rhythmic panache, thrilling dialogues and the embrace of classical ideas, rock and electronic aesthetics that made the trio the biggest draw in European jazz. At the same time, the soloists are central to Ek's visiona visceral component every bit as significant as the orchestral voice.
Some of the songs translate better than others in the orchestral idiom, particularly the extended compositions like "Wonderland Suite," "Viaticum Suite" and "Behind the Yashmak," where Ek's manipulation of the orchestra's contrasting dynamics is arguably most effective. Most satisfying is "e.s.t. Prelude," where Mahler-esque strings adagio, striking brass voicings and Berglund's trademark arco combine in elegant, grandiose style. The ensemble then cedes to gentler, individual voices, as marimba, harp, flute, oboe and clarinet weave softer threads. It's the most impressionistic arrangement on the album and the overall effect is akin to a requiem.
Inevitably enough, and given the scale of the project, the intimate chemistry that made e.s.t such a unique organism is absent. But rather than thrust Rantala into the thankless task of imitating Svensson, Ek Instead uses the orchestra cannily to suggest rhythmic patterns, or in the case of the interlude in "When God Created The Coffee Break," to reimagine Svensson solos. That said, Rantala leaves his mark, faithfully reproducing Svensson's most memorable melodic motifs when required and exerting his own considerable personality when accorded the freedom, notably with a dashing improvisation on "When God Created The Coffee Break."
The powerful "Seven Days of Falling" finds Neset in scintillating form, while Pohjola is equally expansive and fiery on "Wonderland Suite" -an episodic arrangement featuring Lindstrom's painterly pedal steel touches and an Öström solo spot, which, truth be told, somewhat dramatically disrupts the ensemble flow. "Serenade for the Renegade" and "Eighthundred Streets by Feet" flow between orchestral buoyancy and chamber intimacy, and in general the music is most effective when Ek embraces the force of such tidal movements. Trumpets and strings beef up "Dodge the Dodo" but add little to the tensions inherent in Berglund's heady arco distortions and Öström's hammered rhythms. E.S.T. Symphony
is a fine tribute to Esbjorn Svensson, as much in its fidelity to e.s.t.'s compositions as in the adventurous liberties that it takes with the same. This is a heartfelt project that breathes new life into Svensson's already considerable legacy.