EST’s Posthumous 301 Album Was Worth the Wait
The release of the posthumous 301 album by genre-defying Swedish cult favorites the Esbjorn Svensson Trio (better known as EST), via the German ACT label, was worth the wait. Recorded in 2007 in Australia, less than a year before the tragic death of pianist Esbjorn Svensson in a scuba diving accident, it’s been tweaked and fine-tuned by the surviving band members, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom, along with their longtime live sound engineer Ake Linton. This session captures the band at the peak of their powers, and will only add to the Svensson legend – it’s a characteristically rich, shapeshifting mix of third stream piano, cinematic themes, more straightforward American jazz, and a crushingly powerful centerpiece that characteristically resists categorization.
That work is a practically 21-minute diptych titled Three Falling Free. The introduction, with Svensson scattering neoromantic imagery that draws just as much on Brubeck as it does on Chopin, offers not the slightest hint of the mayhem that will ensue when Ostrom propels the thirteen-minute second part with a feral series of cascades. To call this tribal would not do it justice: the effect is something akin to the Grateful Dead doing Pink Floyd, with their entire percussion battery fully charged, but more intense than that. That Ostrom could vary his phrasing as subtly as he does, let alone get through it unscathed, is something else entirely. Berglund’s overdriven bass roars with distortion and eventually begins to throw off overtones that eventually linger as Ostrom chooses his spots, echoing the theme’s elegant central hook. Svensson, meanwhile, colors it with alternately minimalist and bluesy phrasing. It’s one of the most adrenalizing songs in any style released this year.
The rest of the album is less intense and more melodic. The opening nocturne, Behind the Stars, evokes Angelo Badalamenti’s most noirish work, Svensson’s spacious glimmers contrasting with Ostrom’s boomy minimalism as it slowly crescendos. The closing cut, The Childhood Dream, is similar, moving further toward a melodically bluesy ambience that reminds of Frank Foster at his most lyrical. A Monk-influenced, moody modal piece, The Left Lane develops a creepy ambience as Ostrom and Berglund embellish it against Svensson’s resonant whole-note chords, rising and falling with dark, glittery piano phrases that finally climb as the beat coalesces out of counterrythms. There’s also the hypnotically mysterious, almost imperceptibly crescendoing Inner City Lights, the band slowly developing a wary, blues-infused theme against some of the more prominent electronic touches that flicker, mostly in the background, throughout the album.
It’s not known if this most recent release is the final installment of the EST archive, or if there is more to come. Whatever the case, this is a rich addition to the band’s legacy, one that came to an end far too soon.
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