e.s.t. – e.s.t. live in Gothenburg(ACT Music ACT 9046-2. CD review by Adrian Pallant)
What more can be said, what more can be heard of a band who, between 1993 and 2008, came to inspire a generation of artists and significantly expand the landscape of contemporary jazz? The legacy of eleven, progressive Esbjörn Svensson Trio (e.s.t.) studio albums remains powerful to this day; and ACT Music’s previous concert releases Live ‘95, Live in Hamburg and Live in London, plus the live second disc of a platinum-edition Viaticum, are a reminder of the enormity of what they (together with transformative sound engineer Åke Linton) produced out of the otherwise traditional format of ‘piano trio’. Playing to rapt sell-out audiences, to many they were a ‘band’ – one which defied specific musical categorisation.
e.s.t live in Gothenburg takes us back to 2001 with a 2CD set which documents what the late pianist Esbjörn Svensson (who tragically died seven years later) described as one of the best concerts the trio ever performed. In context, recorded between albums Good Morning Susie Soho and Strange Place for Snow (when their profile was strengthening apace), it finds only double bassist Dan Berglund operating with electronic effects, soon also to be taken up by Svensson and drummer Magnus Öström. But their performance over these 100-plus minutes is as supercharged as ever.
Esbjörn’s description of how they approached their live performances is, especially now, both heartwarming and moving: “Then we go on stage, meet the audience, the music. Timeless, without a programme, without a set list. We want to be open with what fits then… then it’s the music that carries us and we just make ourselves available. It’s fantastic, near religious I suppose. All of a sudden we can hear ourselves playing things we’ve never played before. And suddenly colour returns to life. When that happens I think the audience feels it too. They and we get to be in on something that will never happen again”.
At the Philharmonie, warm applause and bass-tuning precede lightly buoyant ‘90s tune Dating, brimming with blithe acciaccatura piano melodies, before another earlier album opener, Somewhere Else Before, hints at darker tones and Öström’s characteristic snare momentum. Then, heralded by three minutes of Svensson’s improvisatory solo brilliance (one can almost hear his mind creating), the signature spark of e.s.t. is ignited in The Rube Thing – an enduringly popular gig number, and never a studio track – flying like the wind to scorching chromatic piano and breathless bass-and-drum momentum.
e.s.t’s heart-on-sleeve moments were just as effective, heard here in the weightlessness of From Gagarin’s Point of View and bluesy, chorale-like The Chapel. But it’s extended numbers such as The Wraith (from 2000) that signpost the journey the band would take, Öström’s ‘perpetual motion’ and Berglund’s deep, distorted lines building a fierce rock groove allowing Svensson to boundlessly explore his keys and strings with a burning focus which stays in the memory. It’s an outstanding, thunderous performance. J S Bach and Bill Evans meet in summery Providence, a tightly-executed outing from that same period of e.s.t.; and Berglund’s soft-funk bass ushers in the twelve minutes of Good Morning Susie Soho, full of playful invention (Esbjörn’s intervals at 2:33 are exquisite) and inevitable, deafening crescendos.
Previously unreleased Bowling, compositionally credited to the trio, is almost cartoon-like. Its short, jaunty opening quickly gives way to Öström’s thrashing, yelping, cymbal-heavy solo spot (including familiar squeaky toy), yet still has jazz trio swing at the heart of the group improv. And from 1997’s EMI Studios recording, Winter in Venice, the delicate singer-songwriter feel of The Second Page is sublime in its simplicity; so much so that a vocal entry from Joni Mitchell would not feel out of place. Arguably e.s.t.’s greatest crowd-pleaser, Dodge the Dodo, concludes the set with memorable rise-and-fall riffs, searing electronic-effected arco bass, prepared-piano pulsations and relentless hyper-drumming.
Given the digital platforms out there these days, new music can unfortunately, for some, become a disposable commodity (‘been there… ‘done that… next…). Full immersion into e.s.t. live in Gothenburg, however, is something to be savoured in an album which ensures the pioneering (yes, pioneering) spirit that Svensson, Öström and Berglund summoned remains with us. Still relevant, still astonishing.
Released tomorrow, Friday 25 October.