Iiro Rantala and Friends – Jazz at Berlin Philharmonic V: Lost Hero – Tears for Esbjörn
(ACT. 9815-2. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)
It is nearly eight years since the untimely death of Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson. Fellow pianist Iiro Rantala dedicated a track to Svensson on his 2012 release “Lost Heroes”, Tears for Esbjörn, and from that track this live project evolved.
A quartet of Rantala, guitarist Ulf Wakenius, bassist Lars Danielsson and drummer Morten Lund are joined by vocalist Viktoria Tolstoy, who released an album of Svensson’s songs, “Shining on You,” in 2004.
Svensson worked mostly with his band e.s.t (originally the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, Svensson preferred the acronym, seeing e.s.t. as a band with Dan Bergland and Magnus Öström rather than his trio), and Rantala takes tracks from several of e.s.t.’s records – notably Seven Days of Falling and From Gagarin’s Point of View – for this concert set recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie in 2015.
The outcome is a remarkable tribute. The CD opens with Rantala’s elegiac Tears for Esbjörn, a moving, quiet piece for piano, guitar and bass. Tolstoy’s contributions are similarly emotional. When she sings on Love Is Real, “if we meet again, I’ll tell you how I feel”, it is hard not to be moved. She has a powerful voice, used to great effect.
The tunes stand on their own, not requiring knowledge of the originals, but illuminating them, too. For instance, on the e.s.t. live favourite Dodge the Dodo, Lund simplifies Öström’s complex rhythm without losing the propulsive energy of the original, allowing Wakenius to develop an intricate and exciting guitar solo.
Similarly, Seven Days of Falling largely becomes a vehicle for guitar, an interpretation which emphasises the melody. Throughout the album, Rantala and his colleagues maintain the sense of dynamics that made e.s.t. so exciting live.
The spacious From Gagarin’s Point Of View is perhaps least changed by the interpretation of the quartet, both Rantala and Wakenius providing beautifully abstract solos. It segues seamlessly into the closing number, a version of John Lennon’s Imagine. This tune can often be overly sentimental, but in Rantala’s hands and Tolstoy’s voice it is anything but. Backing Tolstoy with oblique chords, Rantala barely hints at the original melody until half way through the song, when the rest of the band come in, and it quickly becomes a free-thrash before somewhat curiously resolving into a few bars of “God Save The Queen” to close.