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Magnus Ostrom Band at Ronnie Scott's

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Magnus Ostrom
Ronnie Scott's
London
September 16, 2013

"What guarantee do we have that the future will come? That we will be able to experience it? We generally live in our Western society separated from death. We don't think about it. Talk seldom about it. Suppress it preferably. But suddenly, it hits us. Close or at a distance. But almost always with astonishing power. Everything stays put. And we suddenly experience our fragility, our loneliness, our total powerlessness in front of death. It pushes us to a corner. Force us to resignate to it. Death has all the power. And we float in a complete uncertainty about the future. We know nothing. We have no guarantees. Life can finish anytime."

Esbjorn Svensson (2003)

It's devastating when anyone dies young, not least jazz musicians. And sadly, there's an extensive list of jazz greats who departed well before their time. "A Monet of rhythm," as one friend once described Jaco Pastorius, aged 35, beaten to death by nightclub manager Luc Havan after an altercation outside the Midnight Bottle Club in Lauderdale, Florida, on September 21st, 1987; John Coltrane, aged 40, dead from liver cancer at Huntington Hospital on Long Island, July 17th, 1967; due to his bad shape from heroin and alcohol abuse, Charlie Parker, dead of pneumonia at the age of 34 in 1955, incorrectly tagged as being in his 50s by the coroner; and bassist Paul Chambers dead in 1969 at the age of 33 due to complications surrounding his alcoholism, heroin addiction and tuberculosis.

On June 14, 2008, yet another bright star was added to this solemn register: Swedish pianist composer Esbjorn Svensson, aged 44, whose sudden, untimely death in a diving accident rocked the jazz community. His passing was perhaps most strongly felt, outside the immediate family, by his two e.s.t. bandmates, drummer Magnus Ostrom and bassist Dan Berglund, who, going forward, had to deal with the dilemma of not having played outside e.s.t in 15 years. Nevertheless, both have since bounced back with notable new projects (Magnus Ostrom and Tonbruket) and released albums that have acted, for all intents and purposes, as personal coping mechanisms: broodingly soul-searching sets of progressive, post-rock-sounding electric jazz.

Ostrom's first record, Thread Of Life (Act, 2011), despite the drummer looking every inch a rock bruiser on the front cover, strayed into mild, coffee-table territory. Much of it sounded like Pat Metheny fronting glacial post-rock titans Sigur Ros, but in reality the result—ponderous, slow-moving—was nowhere near as exciting as that sounds. The follow up Searching For Jupiter (Act, 2013), (a majority of which was performed this night) however, was a sharper, freer and more spirited affair, demonstrated by the fact that Ostrom had not only developed a strong rapport with his young, talented band mates, but had made a marked improvement on his compositional skills.

Five minutes before show time, Ostrom was found cleaning his teeth in the club toilets, and fittingly his outfit's performance was highly polished, verging on hygienic. Opening with Searching For Jupiter's lead-out track, "The Moon (And The Air It Moves)," it was immediately apparent the band had, sadly, softened their rock edges to suit a sit-down jazz audience. While on the album the track encompasses hypnotic post-rock crosswinds within its moody pulse, live it felt dampened down and MOR.

There was more than a touch of Jazz Police's surging melodicism to "Dancing At The Dutchtreat," whose pirouetting guitars and stomping piano motifs were underpinned by Ostrom's Stewart Copeland-like accents. Actually, the Swedish drummer referenced Copeland's off-the-cuff style throughout, whether on the rapid-fire hi hat work on "Searching For Jupiter," or the clever blending of beats and fills on the Metheny-esque set closer, "At The End Of Eternity." The aforementioned title-track of Ostrom's latest album, reminiscent of e.s.t's live favorite, "When God Created The Coffee Break," marked the first point in the set where the band took flight, and Andreas Hourdakis' almost pedal-steel chords heightened Daniel Karlsson's thundering left-hand motif.

The band didn't reach full tilt until after the interval. The folk-but-not folk vibes of "Through The Sun" gave way to a squidgy funk breakdown, while bassist Thobias Karlsson deployed thick hunks of space-funk improv. Likewise, the open-range melancholia of "Weight Of Death," which could be an outtake from Sigur Ros's latest album, bled into a dark, strangled, synth-led workout which made you think the band weren't afraid to get some dirt under their nails after all. They saved the best for last. On anthem of hope "At The End Of Eternity," Ostrom unleashed his inner Billy Cobham, ramping up the number's cinematic drama with an echo-laden, sledgehammered solo which brought the audience to their feet.

It'd be interesting to see Ostrom and company perform in a mid-size theatre, where they could really let rip. As it stands, this gig was a little too clean-cut and conservative to get pulses racing.

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