Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Esbjörn, We Hardly Knew Ye

The world of jazz is big enough that it's nearly impossible to hear everyone. Subscribing to two of the major jazz magazines as I do, I run across articles all the time about musicians who sound interesting, and I always make a mental note to check out some of their music online, even if it sometimes takes a while to actually do so.

One of the musicians who falls into this category is Sweden's Esbjörn Svensson, pianist and leader of the eponymous Esbjörn Svensson Trio (or "e.s.t." for short). I remember reading all kinds of good things about this group--including the fact that, at home in Sweden, their recent recordings had made it onto not just the jazz charts, but the pop charts as well. (I noted to myself at the time that the Swedish masses must have extremely good taste for such a thing to happen.) This was definitely a group worth checking out, in time.

If only I'd acted a bit more quickly. I just found out yesterday that Svensson died about a week and a half ago in a diving accident near Stockholm at the young age of 44. Reading the stories of his passing would inevitably lead me to his band's website (linked above) to finally listen to his music for the first time. I'm glad I discovered it, but I wish it hadn't taken the event of his passing to get me to do so.

Suffice it to say, e.s.t. was no ordinary piano trio. As Ian Patterson notes in an AllAboutJazz.com article,
The music he recorded and played alongside drummer Magnus Ostrom and bassist Dan Berglund for fifteen years embraced the idiosyncrasy and fun of Thelonious Monk, echoed the drama and penchant for melody of Johann Sebastian Bach, and rivaled the energy of prog-rock trio Emerson Lake and Palmer in their halcyon days; the first two were influences, (E.S.T's second studio album was a selection of Monk tunes) the third is mere supposition. What is sure however, is that Svensson's music was drawn from many sources and appealed to a broad demographic; the Esbjorn Svensson Trio's concerts brought together jazzers and rockers alike, and likely converted die-hards both ways across the divide.
The music is fresh, uplifting and full of unusual effects, many coming from pedals attached to Berglund's bass; the piano and drums sound processed at times as well, but never in a manner that takes away from the music. (Svensson noted in a 2004 interview that "[w]e have a couple of small devices so we can change the sound of instruments at times when we want it. This is more or less how we work all the time. We have both, the pure acoustic picture and the amplified picture and you can blend them as you wish.")

The first tune that I heard on the band's website, "Goldwrap," drew me in right away. It might be a stretch to say that it's a tune that one could whistle while walking down the street (being full of fast arpeggios and all), but it's highly infectious in both a rhythmic and melodic sense. Other tunes are equally enjoyable; the 2006 release Tuesday Wonderland has enough such compositions that I'm about to fire up my iTunes account after writing this post. (Check out longer sound and video clips at the trio's MySpace page.)

I'm really sorry to be late to the party on this one, but thankfully, the trio's recorded legacy lives on. My thoughts and prayers are with Svensson's family and bandmates, as well as his legions of fans around the world...a group that has just now grown by one.

And we remember another one: While reading the AllAboutJazz.com stories about Svensson, I thought I was in for another shock, as an article in memory of Bill Reichenbach showed up in the links. Had the noted bass trombonist and studio musician left us as well? No, it was his father, a drummer who played with Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd on the classic "Jazz Samba" album. (That solved a mystery that had puzzled me since my radio days, when I'd seen that name on that album; was the trombonist also a master of the drums, and at a young age, no less? Nope; he just inherited some really great musical genes. My condolences to Bill Jr. and his family.)

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