Difficult ninth album for the acclaimed Swedish piano trio...
Russell Finch 2003
An over zealous junkmail filter might think Viaticum is some kind of new impotence drug but its real meaning - the blessing given to a dying person sets out a new, darker tone for the Esbjorn Svensson Trio (E.S.T.'s) ninth album.
Along with free pencils in furniture shops, E.S.T. are surely one of Sweden's greatest gifts to the globe. Their Radiohead meets Keith Jarrett soundworld and busy touring schedule - including recent US dates with k.d Lang -have made them what in these times may seem like an oxymoron; a credible crossover act.
But if second albums are traditionally difficult, what does that make a ninth one, especially following on the heels of top-drawer records like Goodbye Susie Soho (2000) and Strange Place For Snow (2002)? Happily, E.S.T. seem to be evolving rather than stagnating. Gone are the more downhome funk tunes, country folk and even the borderline euro-pop of their big hit "Dodge The Dodo". In its place is a more concentrated sound, contemplative and reflective - music for rainy car journeys.
With their former Jarrett-isms less prominent,E.S.T. now sound like no one other than themselves. On the title track the classical harmonies of Svensson's piano mesh with Dan Berglund's versatile bass - now playing roots, now adding drone textures, now finding the tune on harmonics - in a way unlike anyone else. If at points some of the good humour of earlier albums is missing, we gain darkly atmospheric moments such as Magnus Ostrom's inclement drumming like a distant thunderstorm on "In The Tale Of Her Eye". The ecstatic soloing of previous outings remains but this time feels more intense than joyous. Even the Brazilian influenced track "The Well-Wisher" seems to have had the sunlight extracted.
If you're new to e.s.t, perhaps a better place to start would be one of their lighter previous albums. If you're already a fellow traveller though, this more subdued installment comes highly recommended.