The Esbjörn Svensson Trio. The band that arguably did more to evolve and nourish the European jazz scene in the post-millennium age than any other. The sound innovators who brought a rock concert sensibility to their gigs. The conduit for non-jazz and rock/pop audiences to understand and engage with this most fulfilling of genres.
The story, as we all know, ended in tragedy just over a decade ago. But what Live in Gothenburg - a double album launched on 25 October - does is give you a reason to be happy, not sad. To remember the musical legacy that was created, not the potential legendary tunes that were lost to the ether when Esbjörn Svensson so tragically died. And what a legacy created by Svensson and his bandmates, Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström.
This is the third live album from E.S.T. to be released - the fourth if you count Live in Berlin, which came as a bonus CD with Viaticum - and is the first to capture them in a smaller setting in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2001, just as they were starting to hit their stride. So, it’s a little more straightforward in sound - the mixing on this album is particularly good, so it doesn’t feel at all dated - as they were just starting to experiment even more with the electronic sounds, effects and motifs that would become their trademark.
Coming at the end of a long European tour, by this time the show was almost perfect in delivery, and it’s a great record of how even in the early part of the career the band could just deliver, without fail, every night. Interesting, from my recent conversation with Magnus Öström, (which you can read here) he advised that this show was a particular favourite of Svensson’s and one marked out, even then, for eventual release. So, it’s something of a tribute.
It’s very little to say something new about how brilliant the tunes are; it’s also very little to say anything that’s not a superlative or uncritical. It’s a real lightning-in-a-bottle album, capturing and releasing something special nearly two decades on.
Every track offers something different. The simplest of shuffle intros on Öström’s snare and cymbals to Somewhere Else Before, the second track, is so spider-web delicate but immensely satisfying to listen to as Svensson lays down gold-leaf delicate chords and notes. At times, there’s almost nothing there, but it’s what is there that works so well.
The Rube Thing starts of with improvisations and noodles from Svensson alone - and they’re almost a track in themselves - but it’s when the rhythm section kicks in - super soloing from Berglund here - that you understand what they both did for Svensson’s playing. They supported and strengthened like the girders in a high-rise building. Without them, it wouldn’t have worked.
The band’s most famous track, From Gagarin’s Point of View, remains charming and instantly smile-inducing as ever, but the listener’s surprised by Berglund’s opening improvisation using his bow, which leads into some tremendously moody drum fills from Öström which introduces the tune proper, which was always slow and introspective, but feels even more so on this recording. Beauty from simplicity.
On CD 2, there are more great tracks, each with challenging elements and improvisation throughout. Good Morning Susie Soho starts off with Beglund and Öström playing around with textures and tones. This thirteen minute track has a concerto quality as it moves from light and dark, quiet to loud, slow to up tempo. The Chapel is another ballad with few notes, but those notes tell a compelling story. Bowling is one of the more conventional jazz tracks here, and is home to a superb Öström solo in which you can hear him and the band shouting and egging each other on, which sets up the rest of the track beautifully.
Last track The Dodo is a great way to go out: urgent, poignant chord soundings, and such innovative playing. Boy, these guys were good! Between each track, the audience’s enjoyment is palpable. And justifiably so: they are richly entertained.
It’s easy to forget that E.S.T.’s success is not just down to the fantastic playing and composing sensibilities of Svensson, though clearly they are central to the group’s character. Berglund and Öström are two thirds of the whole and show their value well of this gig. Indeed, the fact that both have had international success (even if not quite reaching E.S.T.’s Beatles-like impact) with Berglund's Tonbruket and Öström’s own solo work (my particular favourites) and more recently, Rymden (review here) is testament to that.
They are the engine room and superstructure of the E.S.T. leviathan, powering the ship on the course set by Svensson and ensuring that the journey was always inspiring, dramatic and endlessly rewarding.
As custodian’s of the E.S.T. legacy they are also, in a sense, free of it, unencumbered, safe in the knowledge that the music made by all three of them has made the world just a little better.