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Magnus Öström Thread of Life Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A surprisingly sedate first solo statement from the ex-EST drummer.

Daniel Spicer 2011

Judging by the cover of Öström’s debut solo CD – a moody shot of the Swedish drummer bare-chested, clutching a cymbal – he seems to fancy himself as a bit of a hard man. So, you’d expect Thread of Life to be a muscular monster. Strange, then, that it turns out to be something of a pussycat instead.

Öström is best known for playing in EST for 15 years up until the pianist Esbjörn Svensson’s untimely death in a diving accident in 2008. Here, he’s avoided trying to reproduce the piano trio’s acoustic sound and focuses on an airbrushed electric jazz, which owes much to the lush fusion-lite of guitarist Pat Metheny (who makes a guest appearance on Ballad for E). That said, the music here bears the same sort of relationship to electric jazz-rock as EST did to acoustic piano jazz: it is melodic, tasteful and, frankly, a little bland.

For all the distorted guitar solos present, there’s no escaping the fact that tracks like Longing have more than a hint of the coffee table about them, while Weight of Death and Between are soporific to the point of becoming musical sedative. It’s a shame because there are some promising moments peppered throughout the album. Piano Break Song is built around a Steve Reich-like piano figure, which, while not exactly a new idea, is pleasing enough. The Haunted Thoughts and the Endless Fall has more punch – and at four minutes is the shortest track on the album by quite some way. Yet, even here, Öström seems curiously restrained and rarely manages to break a sweat. The album’s finale, Hymn (For the Past) Part II, is 15 minutes of glacial post-rock in the style of Sigur Rós, which clearly strives to build an anthemic gravitas, but actually just feels cumbersome and overly-concerned with its own importance.

With their accessible melodies and clean-cut energy, EST were unusual in their ability to crossover and appeal to audiences from beyond the jazz world. While some of those listeners will surely want to check Öström’s first post-EST statement, it’s hard to imagine this release will gain him many new followers.

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