Friday, October 24, 2008


Esbjorn Svensson Trio (Jazz)
LP: Leucocyte (A.C.T., 2008)

The death of Esbjorn Svensson this summer was a huge tragedy for his family and also for jazz fans who recognized the importance of the innovative Esbjorn Svensson Trio (E.S.T.)

Inspiration behind what was perhaps the definitive postmodern jazz group, Svensson constantly expanded the possibilities of the traditional trio, conjuring a daring mix of jazz, classical, rock, electronica and ambient noise.

In some regards E.S.T. were jazz’s counterpart to Radiohead, sharing the British rock band’s edgy ambivalence toward technology as well as the ability to express moments of sublime emotion and quietude.

This was demonstrated to stunning effect on 2007’s Live In Berlin LP - the only E.S.T. record I was previously familiar with - and again here on the staggering Leucocyte.

This superb collection of free improvisation is dominated by two extended suites: Premonition: Earth and Leucocyte: Ad Mortem.

The first begins with a muted funky bass riff which pulses and weaves, gradually being joined by a sparse piano exploration which gradually takes over, building and building until its boldness and intensity is almost too much to bear. It’s an amazing and superb improvisation, a modern jazz milestone which will shake up the purists.

Premonition: Contorted recontextualizes that masterstroke with jarring electronic effects which somehow complement Svensson’s gorgeous piano study. Jazz begins in the otherwordly domain of Supersilent before it slides into a jazzy parallel universe with more than a passing nod to Keith Jarrett.

There are moments where the going gets a tad heavy and abstracted. Still, a sparse piano piece overladen with effects - didn’t hold my attention. Likewise, Leucocyte: Ad Mortem will defeat many listeners, though together with Leucocyte: Ad Infinitum it features a stunningly elegiac chiming piano figure.

Those who dismiss this kind of jazz as contrary, self-indulgent or irrelevant are dead wrong. Constantly reinventing itself, the driving lyricism of E.S.T. was always about jazz’s present, not its past.

While it may not always make for comfortable listening, E.S.T.'s art always comes straight from the heart. A near-classic, Leucocyte’s challenging, beautiful, even disturbing emotionalism stands as a marvelous tribute to a great talent whose genius has been sadly curtailed while at its creative peak.

E.S.T.: From Gagarin's Point of View:

1 comment:

spaewaif said...

Scandinavian much to answer for!