Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson
's accidental death in 2008 shook the jazz world, with AAJ news items
surrounding his passing garnering tens of thousands of reads. Already jazz superstars in Europe, Svensson and e.s.t. were still building a North American audience, touring regularly to gradually grow its fan base; clearly it was working. All the more tragic, then, that the trio had just put the finishing touches to Leucocyte
(ACT, 2008), a significant evolutionary leap forward. Where the group would have gone we'll never know, but its recorded legacy12 albums in 15 yearsis beautifully represented, nearly from start to finish, on Retrospective: The Very Best of e.s.t.
Despite there being nothing previously unreleased on this single-disc, 75-minute compilation, it's the perfect entry point; a comprehensive collection encapsulating all of e.s.t.'s distinguishing characteristics. Svensson's unmistakable Keith Jarrett-isms are on display throughout the allusively funky, vamp- based title track to Good Morning Susie Soho (ACT, 2000). Channeling veteran Pat Metheny and keyboardist Lyle Mays during his extended solo on "Dolores In A Shoestand," from Tuesday Wonderland (ACT, 2007), Svensson also capitalizes on e.s.t.'s collective ability to milk an ostinato for all it's worth, without ever overstaying its welcome.
Despite such strong references, Svensson's voice remained singular, incorporating a pop-like sensibility and a keen ear for memorable melodies, both written and of-the-moment. "Dodge The Dodo," driven by Öström's frenetically propulsive backbeat, is an early catchy hit, from its breakthrough From Gagarin's Point of View (ACT, 1999), spotlighting Berglund in a potent feature that would become a concert showstopper. As skilled as it was working a groove, e.s.t. was equally capable of greater compositional depth, with Berglund and Svensson partnering contrapuntally on Tuesday Wonderland's driving, fugue-like "Goldwrap." The bassist's well-known love of hard rock also created another e.s.t. definer, as he fed his double-bass through an array of effects to create a signature, metal-tinged arco and, on the closing four-minute excerpt from Leucocyte's 28-minute titular suite, a throbbing, pulsating pizzicato, matched in density and weight by Öström's unfettered support and Svensson's block chord attack.
The poignant simplicity of "Believe, Beleft, Below," from Seven Days Of Falling (ACT, 2003), is the closest thing to a pop song the group wrote; evidence that e.s.t. understood the power of nuance and understatement as much as it did visceral groove and overt virtuosity. That its music was already being performed by othersSwedish guitarist Ulf Wakenius released Love is Real: Ulf Wakenius Plays The Music Of Esbjorn Svensson (ACT, 2008) months before Svensson's deathwas indicative of the group's staying power. Gone but never to be forgotten, Retrospective is a compelling and comprehensive look at an important group tragically cut-off mid-career; a clear and concise picture of multitudinous facets that will ensure its music remains vital, many years from now.
From Gagarin's Point of View; Dodge the Dodo; Good Morning Susie Soho; Spam-Boo-Limbo;
Behind The Yashmak; Viaticum; Seven Days Of Falling; Strange Place For Snow; Believe, Beleft,
Below; A Picture Of Doris Traveling With Boris; Goldwrap; Delores In A Shoestand; Leucocyte.
Esbjörn Svensson: piano, keyboards; Dan Berglund: double-bass; Magnus
Öström: drums, percussion.