Time is the great healer. Certainly there are signs that the two years since Thread of Life (ACT Music, 2011)drummer/composer Magnus Öström's emotionally charged debut as leaderhave helped him better cope with the death in 2008 of pianist Esbjorn Svensson his colleague of 15 years in the influential trio e.s.t. That album's cover showed a bare-chested Öström clutching a cymbal against a Bible-black void; jarringly atypical of ACT Music's aesthetic, it screamed of grief and naked pain. The music cried like a requiem, with songs like the beautifully elegiac "Weight of Death," the poignant tribute "Ballad for E" and "Hymn for the Past" an unequivocal statement of the weight of Öström's loss.
The title, packaging and compositions of Öström's follow-up reflect that he's in a better place, though still adjusting to life without Svensson. The bright minimalist cover conforms with ACT's artistic norm. The liner notes explain how the Romans invoked the God Jupiterbringer of lightwhen cruel fate had struck. The inner sleeve photo features the black backdrop of mourning, but the darkness is broken by soft light falling on Öström's face, illuminating a look of dignified acceptance. Over his shoulder a clocka reminder that time marches on.
Neither has the music stood still, displaying a sunnier visage on the whole than Öström's first studio effort. Even the blue-toned ballad "Mary Jane Doesn't Live Here Anymore" edges towards the comforting, as opposed to the more somber voice of Thread of Life in its sometimes dusky minimalism. The exceptions are the slow, baroque-influenced "Jules and Jim's Last Voyage" and the dark, gothic-rock sonority of "Hour of the Wolf; Öström's repeated drum pattern, Thobias Gabrielson's brooding bass and Daniel Karlsson's stabbing piano ostinato are unrelenting as guitarist Andreas Hourdakis's cuts a searing path through the dense ensemble sound.
Öström is above all a melodist, and songs like the easy-paced "The Moon (and the Air it Moves}" and more poppish fare such as the punchy "Dancing at the Dutchtreat" and "Through the Sun" share an in inherent lyricism regardless of tempo. Solos are sparingly released as the collective voice holds sway. Hourdakis and Karlsson do have their moments but perhaps a little more individual exuberance would have raised the stakes on a recording whose production values are arguably a little too polished.
The title track is an album highlight; fluid ensemble unison lines alternate with interlocking guitar and piano motifs. Hourdakis floats airy chords over the rhythmic bustle. Once the tune has loosened up, driving rock bass underpins rumbling piano whose bottom end dynamics contrast with the prevailing lyricism of the album. The melodic "Through the Sun" and the boogie woogie "Happy and the Fall" are jaunty pop anthems. The more urgent rhythms and melodic hook of "At the End of Eternity"featuring blistering drums hint at the anthemic quality of the quartet's live shows
Searching for Jupiter is a satisfying recording from a cohesive unit that is growing together. Jupiter, it seems, has done his work as Öström is clearly on the right path. There's a feeling here that he's on the edge of producing something really notable; a little more risk and adventure will hurry that day along.
The Moon (And The Air It Moves); Dancing At The Dutchtreat; Mary Jane Doesn't Live Here Anymore; Searching For Jupiter; Hour Of The Wolf; Through The Sun; Happy And The Fall; Jules And Jim's Last Voyage; At The End Of Eternity.
Magnus Öström: drums, percussion, vocal, keyboards; Andreas Hourdakis: guitar, banjo; Daniel Karlsson: piano, keyboards; Thobias Gabrielson: electric bass, bass synthesizer.