For those not familiar with jazz in the last fifteen years, EST were a major new jazz trio out of Sweden that combined the discipline and dedication of jazz tradition with the catchiest of melodies and a DIY rock attitude/sensitivity that opened up new avenues in the evolution of the piano jazz trio format. Tragedy befell the trio when, in 2008, pianist and leader Esbjörn Svensson drowned in a diving accident, and this deprived the world of music of a trio that were at their peak, yet fully capable of reaching higher climbs due to their ability to reach beyond traditional audiences. They had already made significant inroads into the US jazz market, championed by the likes of Downbeat, and were by some distance the best selling act for enterprising German label ACT who have had a penchant/predilection for keyboard-led formations. The genesis of this project goes back further than you might think to 2003 when leader Svensson was still alive and had in mind creating chamber orchestra readings of the trio’s compositions for live performance. This is precisely what the remaining band members have carried through on this project with the live performance taking place at the Konserthuset in Stockholm in the first half of June 2016 on three separate evenings, and the best has been captured and selected here.
This new recording pays tribute to the compositions of the band and places them in a newer/wider perspective of a larger symphonic classical ensemble. However, the intimacy of the trio that so enthralled listeners has not been lost and much credit for this achievement must go to the arrangements of conductor Hans Ek, on the one hand, and, on the other, to the two remaining band members, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström who have carved out their own careers subsequently. The seemingly impossible task of filling Svensson piano duties is accomplished with aplomb by Iiro Rantala who has been making his own waves as a leader with ACT, while for added diversity a two-pronged brass section of saxophonist Marius Neset and trumpeter Vernieri Pohjola along with pedal steel guitarist Johan Lindström provide a further dimension to the music.
On the opener, ‘E.S.T. Prelude’, the scene is set for what is to follow and serves as an impressionistic hors d’oeuvre for the main course. One characteristic of the band in its prime was the quirky and often humorous choice of track titles and one fine illustration of this is, ‘When God Created The Coffee Break’, which is taken at a brisk tempo with strings prominent until brass suddenly break in. Thereafter, the chamber jazz ambiance of the piano trio takes over. Trumpeter Neset comes into his own on, ‘Seven Days Of Falling’, while Öström provides sensitive accompaniment on brushes on ‘Viaticum Suite’.
Thankfully, at no stage does the celebration ever enter into schmaltzy territory and the interpretations here operate fully in their own right as on the gorgeous minimalist piano of Rantala on, ‘From Gagarin’s Point Of View’, with just the rhythm section while the strings heighten the tension. Indeed, this makes for a fine and viable alternative to rival the original version. A good indicator of an album’s strength is how it ends and in this case, two of the strongest compositions are left to last with the soothing, ‘Viaticum Suite’, and the breezy, ‘Behind The Yashmak’, both impressing.
A heartfelt way to pay homage to Esbjörn Svensson, then, and the music of this trio will linger long in the memory. Historically, the musical innovations of EST represent an important step forward in European jazz as a whole.