THE DOZENS: ESBJÖRN SVENSSON by David Tenenholtz

In the weeks that have passed since the tragic death of Esbj�rn Svensson, there has been an outpouring of love and respect in cyberspace. People have left countless comments on Myspace and the ACT Music + Vision website. Still, few fans have taken the full measure of Svensson�s commitment to music and his integrity and modesty. I was lucky enough to interview Svensson twice, and his willingness to meet with me after gigs, when everyone else wanted to call it a night, is something I�ll always remember. In addition to sharing with me his insights on jazz in Sweden, he told me of his disdain for thinking of jazz as a �religious practice.� He saw music more as a process of engaging your own perceptions, even if it means recognizing your own limitations.



 Esbj�rn Svensson, by Jos L. Knaepen

During the past few years, Svensson�s career was taking off, and along with his cohorts�bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus �str�m�he was changing the face of jazz. Reversing the stigma that a piano trio is where clich�s reign supreme, e.s.t. established themselves on the jazz map, and after years of struggling, they became a presence large enough to be the first foreign band on the cover of Down Beat. At the same time, the trio learned to enhance their instrumental conception by using detailed orchestration, and relying on the expertise of sound engineer �ke Linton, who was a permanent fixture in their performances. Soon enough, the Esbj�rn Svensson Trio took their self-styled identity and ran with it. They never looked back. This writer only hopes that the as-yet unreleased album Leukocyte (ACT Music + Vision) provides the us with another dose of the sparkle, drive, and brilliance that characterized e.s.t.

The following reviews present a chronological account of Esbj�rn Svensson�s musical development and contributions.


Swedish Radio Jazz Group: Sorrow Is the Birth of Joy

Track

Sorrow Is the Birth of Joy

Group

Swedish Radio Jazz Group

CD

A Swedish Tribute to Duke (Phono Suecia PSCD 84)

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Musicians:

Esbjörn Svensson (piano),

16-piece band led by Lennart berg, also featuring Peter Asplund (trumpet), Ulf Johansson (trombone), Erik Nilsson (baritone sax)

.

Composed by Georg Riedel

.

Recorded: live in Berwald Hall, Stockholm, Sweden, May 21-22, 1994

Albumcoveraswedishtributetoduke

Rating: 86/100 (learn more)

Hearing the fluidity and touch coming from Esbjrn Svensson at this fledgling stage in his career, one knows there will be much more inspired playing to come. The pianist has a long opening cadenza and accompanies the melody from Nilsson's briny bari sax with lush voicings and arpeggios. Although Riedel writes in the notes that this piece is designed to build like Ellington's "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue," this is an odyssey that spans territory ranging from "Sophisticated Lady" through "Tourist Point of View" and back.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Nils Landgren Funk Unit: You Dig

Track

You Dig

Group

Nils Landgren Funk Unit

CD

Paint It Blue (ACT 9243-2)

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Musicians:

Nils Landgren (trombone), Randy Brecker (trumpet), Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Esbjörn Svensson (keyboards), Bernard Purdie (drums),

Per Johansson (tenor sax), Henrik Janson (guitar), Magnum Coltrane Price (vocals and bass)

.

Recorded: Hamburg, Germany, May 1996

Albumcovernilslandgrenfunkunit-paintitblue

Rating: 83/100 (learn more)

The groove of Bernard Purdie is distinctive, and bassist/vocalist Price has a lot going on as he delivers a fresh, flowing rap verse. This album was a tribute to Cannonball Adderley, and is accordingly less innovative than many other things Esbjrn Svensson did. Nonetheless, it is fun music and everyone seems comfortable executing it, especially with the addition of the Brecker brothers. Nowadays, The Funk Unit drives the tempo much faster on this party tune.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Esbjrn Svensson Trio: From Gagarin's Point of View

Track

From Gagarin's Point of View

Group

Esbjrn Svensson Trio

CD

Somewhere Else Before (Sbme Special Mkts.)

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Musicians:

Esbjörn Svensson (piano, keyboards, percussion),

Dan Berglund (bass, percussion), Magnus strm (drums, percussion)

.

Recorded: Stockholm, Sweden, May-November 1998

AlbumcoveresbjrnSvenssontrio-somewhereelsebefore

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

The melody here is as serene as the Swedish night sky, but there will always be a brooding quality to the "Nordic tone" in jazz that is just as vital. Creating imaginative characterizations of a murky world that exists maybe only in fantasies, the trio plays with sensitivity and a style all their own.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Esbjrn Svensson Trio: Untitled Hidden Track

Track

Untitled Hidden Track

Group

Esbjrn Svensson Trio

CD

Somewhere Else Before (Sbme Special Mkts.)

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Musicians:

Esbjörn Svensson (piano, keyboards, percussion),

Dan Berglund (bass, percussion), Magnus strm (drums, percussion)

.

Recorded: Stockholm, Sweden, May-November 1998

AlbumcoveresbjrnSvenssontrio-somewhereelsebefore

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Keep the CD going at the end, and you'll hear a hidden track for 4 minutes and 44 seconds of raucous, thrashing metal vamps and a wild solo by Berglund, where he engages his customary guitar pedals. This track demonstrates the "hybrid identity" of e.s.t., as do Svensson's own words in Stuart Nicholson's book Is Jazz Dead (Or Has It Moved To a New Address): "We want to hear stuff that bites us, we try to find that music. It's not a question that the only good music you can find is classical music or jazz, the problem is to find it and hear music and get inspired. I don't know how it works really, the creative filter or whatever, but it's fun."

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Esbjrn Svensson Trio: Dodge the Dodo

Track

Dodge the Dodo

Group

Esbjrn Svensson Trio

CD

E.S.T. Live '95 (ACT 9295-2)

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Musicians:

Esbjörn Svensson (piano, keyboards, percussion),

Dan Berglund (bass, percussion), Magnus strm (drums, percussion)

.

Recorded: live in Montreaux, Switzerland, 1999

Albumcover_est_live_95

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

With a prepared piano, Svensson delivers the rollicking melody, doubled by Berglund's arco bass. An effects pedal evokes the influence of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in Berglund's own pushing solo. Then there is a departure into another dimension as Svensson draws upon Keith Jarrett's The Kln Concert of solo improvisations to great result. Never a fan of transcribing licks, Svensson here details his own approach to playing within the mood or flavor of a jazz master, while not being a copier. Jarrett himself told Japanese concert promoter Toshinari Koinuma to book e.s.t. in 2002, and that's a cat who only a few years ago said in a Down Beat interview that no one was doing anything original anymore.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Nils Landgren & Esbjrn Svensson: Hpsi

Track

Hpsi

Artist

Nils Landgren (trombone) and Esbjörn Svensson (piano)

CD

Layers of Light (ACT 9281-2)

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Musicians:

Nils Landgren (trombone), Esbjörn Svensson (piano).

Recorded: Oslo, Norway, December 2-3, 1999

Albumcovernilslandgren-esbjrnSvensson-layersoflight

Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

This traditional folk song is not as eclectic a choice as many jazz fans might think. To be honest, Swedish musicians play folk music more now than ever before. Many people link Esbjrn Svensson to one of the creators of this trend, Swedish pianist Jan Johansson (1931-1968), due to the fact that both had tragically short lives whose impact will live on indefinitely.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Esbjrn Svensson Trio: When God Created the Coffeebreak

Track

When God Created the Coffeebreak

Group

Esbjrn Svensson Trio

CD

Strange Place for Snow (Sbme Special Mkts.)

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Musicians:

Esbjörn Svensson (piano, keyboards, percussion),

Dan Berglund (bass, percussion), Magnus strm (drums, percussion)

.

Recorded: April 2001-December 2001

AlbumcoveresbjrnSvenssontrio-strangeplaceforsnow

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

An off-kilter left-hand bassline that is doubled by Dan Berglund shows off the skills of these instrumental experts in one of the few straight-up classical references in this album. Svensson himself was criticized for not being a virtuoso at times, but he understood the value of studying Bach just like Bill Evans did. In fact, the link is closer than one might think due to Svensson's trio gaining a wealth of knowledge in their early days by "trying to play in the sound of Bill Evans," which meant not to copy the style, but the mood of tunes such as "Nardis" and "'Round Midnight."

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Viktoria Tolstoy: Dialogue

Track

Dialogue

Artist

Viktoria Tolstoy (vocals)

CD

My Swedish Heart (ACT 9705-2)

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Musicians:

Viktoria Tolstoy (vocals), Nils Landgren (vocals, trombone),

Bror Falk (piano), Christian Spering (bass), Wolfgang Haffner (drums)

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Composed and arranged by Esbjrn Svensson

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Recorded: Gothenberg, Sweden. March 6, 2003.

Albumcoverviktoriatolstoy-myswedishheart

Rating: 87/100 (learn more)

There is warmth to this pretty ballad duet written by Esbjrn Svensson. The clear-voiced Tolstoy and the raspier-toned Landgren have a kinship that is immediately felt in the performance. During his early career, Svensson left the jazz community to work as a freelance pop songwriter and synth player for groups appearing on Swedish television. This one has some of the accessibility and, dare I say, catchiness that aren't found in much of the music written for the instrumental adventures of e.s.t.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Esbjrn Svensson Trio: Tide of Trepidation

Track

Tide of Trepidation

Group

Esbjrn Svensson Trio

CD

Viaticum (ACT 9015-2)

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Musicians:

Esbjörn Svensson (piano, keyboards, percussion),

Dan Berglund (bass, percussion), Magnus strm (drums, percussion)

.

Recorded: Stockholm, Sweden, between August 30 and October 11, 2004

AlbumcoveresbjrnSvenssontrio-viaticum

Rating: 88/100 (learn more)

First in a series of concept albums, Viaticum blends musical adventures and humanistic ideals. The title is a Latin word meaning provisions for a journey, and in Catholicism denotes the premortem Eucharist. In this case, Esbjrn Svensson articulates his belief that music is spiritual nourishment for people from all walks of life. "Tide of Trepidation" has bawdiness in its groove, yet conveys a somber, inward-looking sentiment.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Esbjrn Svensson Trio: The Unstable Table and the Infamous Fable

Track

The Unstable Table and the Infamous Fable

Group

Esbjrn Svensson Trio

CD

Viaticum (ACT 9015-2)

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Musicians:

Esbjörn Svensson (piano, keyboards, percussion),

Dan Berglund (bass, percussion), Magnus strm (drums, percussion)

.

Recorded: Stockholm, Sweden, between August 30 and October 11, 2004

AlbumcoveresbjrnSvenssontrio-viaticum

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

A rolling sea of arpeggios coming from the piano lays a bed for the elegiac melody. The subsequent bass solo is vocal-inflected and thunderous, something Berglund has come to be known for. Drums and bass lay out while Svensson delves further into a free territory of elegance and purity, harkening back to the pianist's admiration for Keith Jarrett's earlier solo work. This song has moments of relaxation, followed by an energizing push to the finishing coda.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Viktoria Tolstoy: The Morning of You

Track

The Morning of You

Artist

Viktoria Tolstoy (vocals)

CD

My Swedish Heart (ACT 9705-2)

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Musicians:

Viktoria Tolstoy (vocals), Nils Landgren (vocals, trombone),

Jacob Karlzon (piano), Ulf Wakenius (acoustic guitar), Lars Danielsson (bass, cello), Peter Danemo (drums, percussion)

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Composed by Esbjrn Svensson. Arranged by Jacob Karlzon

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Recorded: Gothenberg, Sweden, December 6-12, 2004

Albumcoverviktoriatolstoy-myswedishheart

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

In keeping with his training as a pop and R&B tunesmith, Esbjrn Svensson wrote this song to have a soulful groove and a more pop-influenced hook, on which Viktoria Tolstoy's powerful voice soars. Adding to her poise and comfort delivering the vocals is dexterity in the short guitar solo by Wakenius. The background vamp is accentuated by Jacob Karlzon's distinctive power at the piano.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


Esbjrn Svensson Trio: Goldwrap

Track

Goldwrap

Group

Esbjrn Svensson Trio

CD

Tuesday Wonderland (ACT 9016-2)

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Musicians:

Esbjörn Svensson (piano, keyboards, percussion),

Dan Berglund (bass, percussion), Magnus strm (drums, percussion)

.

Recorded: Gothenberg, Sweden, March 2006

AlbumcoveresbjrnSvenssontrio-tuesdaywonderland

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

A gorgeous and uplifting journey through the collective mind of the Esbjrn Svensson Trio! The cycles of changing frequency coming from the drum set effects pedals fit the melody perfectly. The playing here is as relaxed and full as it gets, while maintaining a characteristic churning movement from the piano arpeggios. Svensson's inspiration from Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier is no longer apparent. There is a uniqueness in this man's music that shines on.

Reviewer: David Tenenholtz


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