Esbjörn Svensson Trio ‘Live in London’ 2CD (ACT) 5/5

It is some ten years since the EST trio leader and founder member, Esbjörn Svensson, was tragically killed on a lake near Stockholm. This live recording captures the trio at their stunning peak on a May 2005 concert that took place at the Barbican. Just under two hours of the band’s most loved numbers and what distinguished this trio from more traditional piano jazz trios was their ability to effortlessly interweave elements of rock, classical and jazz into a distinctive and fully cohesive whole that one would immediately recognise as their own. Furthermore, the band broke new ground in being one of the few European jazz formations that succeeded in gaining a foothold in the notoriously crowded and competitive American market. In live performance, the trio would diverge from studio recordings, often one number naturally seguing into another, and the music as a whole had an organic quality that could only have resulted from the amount of time the band rehearsed together and knew each other’s musical strengths and needs intimately. Thus on the lovely, ‘Tide Of Trepidation’, the main theme is identifiable from the outset, but towards the end Svensson takes the music in a different direction, setting off on a solo escapade. Another distinguishing feature was the quirky titles that immediately attracted the listener’s attention, such as, ‘When God Created the Coffeebreak’ (something Scandinavians are particularly partial to), or the seemingly impossible to fathom, ‘Eighty-Eight Days in My Veins’. EST were a band not devoid of humour, but equally capable of lengthy and dense interpretations of their work, as evidenced on a marathon-esque seventeen minute reading of, ‘Behind the Yashmak’, or a fifteen minute take on, ‘The Unstable Table and the Infamous Fable’. This writer, however, was most impressed by the delicate balladry work of the trio and in this respect, one of the unquestionable concert high points is the dazzling piano in operation on, ‘Viaticum’. Excellent sound quality and a highly charged evening in front of an audience that clearly lapped up the band’s contribution and work. Groups of the quality and artistry EST only come up every so often and that is all the more reason to celebrate their music here.

Tim Stenhouse