Esbjörn Svensson died in a scuba diving accident on June 14th, 2008, ten years on the ACT label that released all but the earliest of the e.s.t. (Esbjörn Svensson Trio) albums is celebrating his legacy with this double disc live recording from London’s Barbican concert hall. Pianist Esbjörn Svensson, bass player Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström were easily the most influential force on piano jazz and beyond in the first decade of the 21st century, their style infuses virtually all the piano trios working today and extends to those seeking to break out of the jazz mould such as Go Go Penguin. What e.s.t. did was to bring rhythm to the fore in an artform that had, and continues to, get lost in displays of virtuosity and introspection. Svensson was undoubtedly a talented and technically proficient pianist but he didn’t let this get in the way of the groove that he and childhood friend Öström developed in their basement from a very early age. Svensson was first and foremost a hard worker, he would spend every day at the piano waiting for the muse to strike, some days barely writing a note and others getting several pieces down. It was this combined with an inquisitive, searching mind made his music so appealing to audiences across the world from the release of their 1999 album From Gagarin’s Point of View onwards.
The London concert is only the second live release from the band and when I asked Öström why it had been chosen he said that it was one of the few that had been recorded and with which the remaining members were happy. I can’t say I’m surprised, it’s a superb set that takes tunes from across their back catalogue as it stood in 2005, its 10 tracks cover the gamut of the band’s styles, from locked solid grooves with every musician in complete synch to improvisations that the original songs barely hinted at. This was the sort of band that makes you think that three is the perfect number when it comes to musicians working together, the fact that two of the three had been doing so for 25 years on and off must also have helped. Their style ranged from almost pure jazz when Svensson was let loose to express himself to the nearest thing to rock that a band with acoustic instruments can produce. In fact Berglund’s bass sounds uncannily like an electric guitar at times, he must have been using effects pedals in a way that no other double bass player had at the time and when it came together this was a lot of fun. Effects can also be heard on the drums occasionally, adding reverb and echo in a subtle fashion, and not to be outdone Svensson wasn’t averse to plucking at the strings of his piano and even treating it to a little extra resonance at times.
Esbjörn Svensson’s passing was a great loss to the world of music, his appeal went beyond the usual world of jazz and made him one of the greats of the form. This release makes that crystal clear, if you want to hear inspired and entertaining live music making give it a spin.