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Esbjorn Svensson Trio retrospective - the best of e.s.t Review

Compilation. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Their absence has left an unfilled gap that heightens the nostalgia here.

Kevin Le Gendre 2009

It’s only 18 months since Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson died in a diving accident, but it seems as if the tragedy stretches further in time. How so? Because E.S.T, the trio that also comprised double bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom, had made such an impact on the European jazz scene that its absence has left an unfilled gap that heightens the nostalgia for what they achieved over 17 years. It’s a little known fact being that the group was born in 1991, even though its breakthrough, From Gagarin’s Point of View, came in 1998.

The title track of said album kicks off this compilation and forcefully makes it clear why E.S.T reached beyond a jazz audience. They had songs. Hooks. Themes fit for radio purpose. They were often ethereal and gentle, their contours modelled on the classical music that Svensson had so thoroughly absorbed alongside his education as an improvising musician, and at times these melodies hovered on the edge of easy listening, their trajectory understated enough to work as incidental music. Yet E.S.T’s output was equally defined by the kind of musicianship that saw both Berglund and Ostrom pass impressively pithy comment on a chord sequence or rhythmic cycle to effectively lift the band’s aesthetic beyond the trite even if their form was accessible, something that jazz moral custodians often treat as a vice when, if well wrought, it can be a virtue.

Owing an obvious debt to Keith Jarrett’s early 70s folk but not folk, rock but beyond rock sensibilities, E.S.T was well versed in pop culture and contemporary technology, be it the snakish, electronic shimmer around the piano or the quivering, curvaceous flange on the bass, and they used such strategies well. Their sleek ambient and funk-rock forays are pleasing rather than truly overwhelming though, and it is hard to escape the feeling they could have achieved more had they emboldened the sonic starkness, if not wildness, at which they often picked. A hip hop producer could have been the key. Posthumous remixes might still open stylistic doors.

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