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The Esbj: Viaticum

Woodrow Wilkins By

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While the piano-led trio is one of the staples of jazz, it can conform to tradition so much that it fails to connect with listeners on an emotional level. Not so with E.S.T. This Scandinavian group adheres to the form just enough to be considered a jazz trio, but between original compositions and sound enhancements that can fool you into believing that more than three musicians are playing, E.S.T. is anything but boring.

One distinction: The group considers itself a pop band that plays jazz. Also, by using the initials E.S.T. instead of the longhand Esbjörn Svensson Trio, the ensemble declares that it favors equality among members rather than a leader with two sidemen. Svensson's piano is out front, of course, but bassist Dan Beglund and drummer Magnus Oström get plenty of room to exhibit their own artistry.

Svensson and Oström played together as children and became sidemen to Swedish and Danish jazz bands. Their first trio was formed in 1990, but they didn't release their first album, When Everyone Has Gone, until three years later. Svensson was named Swedish Jazz Musician of the Year in 1995 and 1996, and Songwriter of the Year in 1998. The 1997 release Winter in Venice won a Swedish Grammy.

Viaticum, named for the Roman expression for food a person takes when embarking on a journey, is nearly an hour's worth of unique soundscapes. At times, it's similar to the music of Michael Bluestein, but more often it's unlike anything else. On the "Unstable Table & The Infamous Fable, Svensson joins Oström with the rhythm while Beglund takes a bow to his bass, making the instrument sing and wail at the appropriate times. At about the four-minute mark, it takes on the sound of an electric rock guitar—one of many electronically enhanced moments—before giving way to a mellow interlude by Svensson.

Oström goes solo near the five-minute mark of "In the Tail of Her Eye. Deftly mixing the snare with the toms and using his array of cymbals, he doesn't conform to a rigid "play it the way it's written format, a taboo that is too often breached in modern recordings. On this track, Oström uses everything at his disposal while setting up the song's brooding conclusion, which segues into "Letter from the Leviathan. Beglund sets the dark mood of this track, while Svensson takes lead, supported by more impressive drumming from Ostrom. "A Picture of Doris Travelling with Boris is an apparent tribute to the characters within characters in the comical spy film True Lies. Like the movie, this track—the most traditional jazz tune on the album—is action-packed.

Viaticum is comprised of nine original songs, all but one with plenty of time for the musicians to showcase their individual skills while complementing one another. Each member is out front at some point, but their play as a unit is what makes this album work.

Track Listing: Tide of Trepidation; Eighty-eight Days in My Veins; The Well-wisher; The Unstable Table & The Infamous Fable; Viaticum; In the Tail of Her Eye; Leter From the Leviathan; A Picture of Doris Travelling with Boris; What Though the Way May be Long.

Personnel: Esbjörn Svensson: piano; Dan Berglund: bass; Magnus Öström: drums.

Title: Viaticum | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: ACT Music

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