‘e.s.t. live in London’ – Esbjörn Svensson Trio (2CD)

e.s.t. live in london_300dpi

For many, e.s.t. (the Esbjörn Svensson Trio) were a truly seminal force in music. Translating the relative simplicity of a piano trio into an outfit which could energize the pulse or melt the heart with dewdrop tenderness, they spawned and influenced a generation of bands which followed.

Read my full review at LondonJazz News…

Released on 11 May 2018 and available from ACT, Amazon, Apple Music, etc.

 

Esbjörn Svensson piano
Dan Berglund double bass
Magnus Öström drums

est-music.com

ACT Music – ACT 9042-2 (2018)

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‘E.S.T. SYMPHONY’ – Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Ek, with Dan Berglund, Magnus Öström and soloists

estsymphony

IT IS NO OVERSTATEMENT that, in contemporary jazz and wider circles, Swedish trio E.S.T. rose to become a powerfully seminal band during the ‘Noughties’. On the face of it, a piano trio – but that barely scratches the surface of why pianist Esbjörn Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström were, in so many hearts, creatively untouchable.

The dynamic breadth and profound atmospheres of E.S.T.’s music, across albums such as Strange Place for Snow, Seven Days of Falling and, later, the intense, improvised landscapes of Leucocyte and 301, pushed at limits whilst also respecting tradition; and their stunning live performances – thankfully preserved in a 1995 release, as well as extraordinary double album Live in Hamburg – left a feeling of excited astonishment as audiences filed out of packed concert halls. So when 2008’s catastrophic news of Svensson’s untimely, accidental death was announced, it was deeply felt that a guiding light had been extinguished.

With the imminent release of each E.S.T. album, there was always a sense of expectation because (as also revealed in their hidden, closing tracks) it surely wouldn’t find them standing still. So Svensson’s vision, dating back to 2003, to enlarge the trio’s output for a series of international orchestral performances, should perhaps come as no surprise. But it’s a concept whose realisation, now, sets the pulse racing. The resulting E.S.T. SYMPHONY‘s ten tracks, across 78 minutes, are performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, with Hans Ek as conductor and arranger. Integral to ‘that sound’ are the characteristic sonorities of Berglund and Öström, and their soloists couldn’t be more empathetic: Iiro Rantala (piano), Marius Neset (tenor sax), Verneri Pohjola (trumpet) and Johan Lindström (pedal steel guitar).

Key to the project’s solid foundation is Esbjörn Svensson’s own, single orchestral arrangement of Dodge the Dodo, its shadowy, surging energy transformed into filmic grandeur: brassy riffs, dramatically sustained strings, ominously ascending steel guitar sirens… and Berglund and Öström in magnificent, frenzied overdrive. Hans Ek’s reinterpretations follow Svensson’s lead so congruously, the gentle lilt of Seven Days of Falling coloured differently by Neset’s tenor, Lindström’s sliding steel, and subtle string embellishments; but amidst the symphonic swell, it can only be E.S.T. as Iiro Rantala sensitively summons the musical presence of his late, fellow pianist. When God Created the Coffee Break (always a live highlight) has bassoon picking up the fugue-inspired piano momentum, the overall scale reminiscent of the many and varied orchestral transcriptions of J S Bach, with Rantala’s mid-point piano spotlight providing an immaculate echo of its originator’s genius.

Eighthundred Streets By Feet send shivers up the spine, those swooning phrases beautifully embellished by the trumpet of Verneri Pohjola, supported by luscious orchestral waves which seemingly break shore; and the already existing tension in one of E.S.T.’s most majestically haunting tunes, Serenade for the Renegade, is raised to blockbuster soundtrack status, its sinewy, symphonic detail underpinning Lindström’s restless improvisations.

Hans Ek also successfully refashions albums Tuesday Wonderland and Viaticum into expansive suites which send up shooting stars of familiar, much-loved melodies and grooves, proving (as if it were necessary) the depth and potential of this trio’s original creations; and the now-emotional, suspended solemnity of Viaticum, in particular, easily suggests symphonic Dvorak or Beethoven before hitting a Philip Glass-like pulse. Though these compositions pave the way for future performances worldwide, the presence of Berglund and Öström feels central to the continuity of the story, conveyed in the open jazz-piano spaciousness of From Gagarin’s Point of View and the lavish, propulsive splendour of Behind the Yashmak which closes almost reaching up to the heavens to triumphantly reunite with Svensson himself.

The indelible impression of E.S.T., as a trio, can never be repeated, nor is that the intention with this impressive reimagining; for as well as prompting a rediscovery of their 13-album catalogue (try it – each one still something of a revelation), it re-evaluates the undoubtable integrity of the band’s considerable output on an orchestral scale, confirmed by Öström: “The music starts to live in itself… it’s not only E.S.T.… it’s going into the future, in a new setting.” And for that, we can be eternally grateful.

Released on 28 October 2016, E.S.T. SYMPHONY is available from ACT Music, AmazoniTunes and record stores.

 

Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Hans Ek conductor, arranger
Marius Neset saxophone
Verneri Pohjola trumpet
Johan Lindström pedal steel
Iiro Rantala piano
Dan Berglund bass
Magnus Öström drums

est-symphony.com

ACT Music – 9034-2 (2016)

‘Young At Heart’ – Ida Sand

IdaSand

POTENTIALLY sending seasoned Neil Young fans running for cover, Swedish songstress Ida Sand delves into the prolific songbook of the seminal Canadian singer/songwriter in this collection of thirteen jazz-inflected soft-rock interpretations.

But for those of us with only a vague recollection of Young’s influential early 1970s albums Harvest Moon and After the Gold Rush, or none at all, Sand’s soulful voice and piano celebrate selections from his classic output with attractive, sympathetic poise. Aided by a particularly polished core band – Jesper Nordenström (keyboards), Ola Gustafsson (guitars), Dan Berglund (acoustic bass), Christer Jansson (drums, percussion) – her guests include compatriot mentor (and producer here), trombonist/vocalist Nils Landgren.

Ida Sand explains that she places at least as much importance on lyrics as melodies, and has sought to retain the integrity of each of the chosen songs. That said, the richness and pitch of her voice (influenced by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Etta James), when compared to Young’s high range, colour the sound in a markedly different way; and gone is the prominent acoustic guitar timbre so characteristic of that transitional ’60s/’70s era. But what does remain is the timeless, innate strength of Neil Young’s writing, communicated in fresh, contemporary arrangements.

The album’s rock thread is maintained throughout by Ola Gustafsson’s beautifully sustained/effected electric guitars, as in opener Cinammon Girl – and there are frequent imaginative textures such as Dan Berglund’s crunchy arco bass and the wide tremolo of Jesper Nordenström’s Fender Rhodes (confirming that these are, by no means, insipid covers). Pondering the decades of musical ‘water under the bridge’ since these songs first saw light, there’s distinct post-prog, melancholic grandeur in Sand’s rendition of Hey Hey, My My; and the pop-soul ballad feel of Harvest Moon is a long way down the road from the original’s folksiness, especially with Per Johansson’s silky tenor sax interludes.

Other highlights include Ohio, translating Neil Young’s rawness into a fuller, electronic sound embellished by Nils Landgren’s echoic, Groove Armada-like trombone; and the mellow, organ-sustained simplicity of Helpless evokes the remnants of the golden ’60s. Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock is infectious, with strong backing vocals, flamboyant wah-wah guitar and wailing Hammond; and Crosby Stills Nash & Young number Sea of Madness is carried well by Sand’s impassioned vocal and full band rock-out.

Whether or not you have Young ‘at heart’, this is an unexpectedly fine release, and great fair-weather driving music – so retract the sunroof, turn up the volume… and hit the gas!

Released 23 March 2015, details and audio samples can be found at ACT Music.

 

Ida Sand vocals, piano
Jesper Nordenström keyboards
Ola Gustafsson guitars
Dan Berglund acoustic bass
Christer Jansson drums, percussion
with
Bo Sundström vocals
Nils Landgren trombone, vocals,
Per Texas Johansson tenor saxophone
Sven Lindvall electric bass
André Monde de Lang background vocals
Paris Renita background vocals

ACT Music – 9729-1 (2015)

‘Kind of Cool’ – Wolfgang Haffner

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IT WOULD BE EASY, on a first hearing, to pass off Wolfgang Haffner’s Kind of Cool as bog-standard ‘elevator music’, given his assured, easy-going approach to this stream of jazz favourites. But offering so much more than that, he presents a thread of accessible Summer’s afternoon ‘cool’ in immaculate, straight-ahead renditions including So What, Summertime, and My Funny Valentine.

As a jazz drummer, composer, producer and bandleader, Haffner has for many years been highly regarded throughout his native Germany and beyond – indeed, a weighty back catalogue of recorded and live collaborations (including Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, John Abercrombie, Michael Wollny) tell their own story. Recalling his early introduction to jazz, it was the LPs of Dave Brubeck, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the Modern Jazz Quartet that helped Haffner forge his musical identity; and here, he approaches familiar ‘greats’ with a fresh elegance, along with a trio of his own compositions which neatly dovetail into the prevailing chilled groove. A sextet album with guests, the main line-up boasts extraordinary collective experience: Christopher Dell (vibes), Jan Lundgren (piano), Dan Berglund (bass), Dusko Goykovich (trumpet) and Jukka Perko (alto sax), plus Haffner at the kit.

So a few pointers: Haffner’s gently shuffling Hippie, with Jukka Perko’s mellow alto conjuring thoughts of Paul Desmond’s (Brubeck’s) signature sound, leads to a buoyant, vibes-embellished interpretation of Miles Davis’ So What. The only vocal track finds soulful Max Mutzke (in an impressive first take) easing into Billy Eckstein’s Piano Man, with marvellously measured blues piano from guest Frank Chastenier; and the timeless appeal of Autumn Leaves is longingly windswept by Dusko Goykovich’s muted trumpet. Tantricity (from Haffner’s pen) meanders abstractly before a welcome gear change in Summertime – Gershwin’s spiritual reinvented as a catchy, laid-back swing.

Rodgers & Hart’s My Fully Valentine maintains its slow, haunting mystery thanks to Perko’s silky alto; and the cheeky unison horn demeanour of Nat Adderley’s One For Daddy O swaggers to the velvety trombone of guest Nils Landgren. With reminiscences of Chet Baker’s smooth vocal delivery, I Fall In Love Too Easily smoulders to Goykovitch’s soft trumpet and Jan Lundgren’s pianistic grace. John Lewis’s Django takes a new twist away from MJQ familiarity, its inquiring sax melody entering the realm of TV drama theme; and Haffner’s Remembrance is a fitting bookend, every bit as appealing as its classic companions.

A recording occasionally veering close to soporific in places, the similar key-change oscillations of the first two programmed tracks didn’t initially help to grab the attention (though perhaps Wolfgang would be quite happy with the Miles comparison!). But as the album proceeds, there’s the realisation of ordered clarity and sophistication which becomes increasingly satisfying. Maybe not literally “my favourite work of art”… but, having already received many enjoyable plays, it will no doubt be pressed into action as the long (hopefully warm and sunny) days of Summer approach.

Released on 23 February 2015, further information, audio clips and purchasing can be found at ACT Music.

 

Wolfgang Haffner drums
Christopher Dell vibraphone
Jan Lundgren piano
Dan Berglund bass
Dusko Goykovich trumpet
Jukka Perko alto saxophone
with
Max Mutzke vocals
Frank Chastenier piano
Christian von Kaphengst bass
Nils Landgren trombone

wolfganghaffner.com

ACT Music  – ACT 9576-2 (2015)