Thursday, June 19, 2008

Esbjorn Svensson 1964-2008

It has been several days since I learned of the passing of Esbjorn Svensson. The pianist was only 44 years old and died in a scuba diving accident on Saturday. When Michael Brecker passed away last year it was after a fairly long illness. Svensson's death came as a shock and hasn't quite sunk in yet.

Other than Brecker, I cannot think of a musician who has had such a huge impact on me and the way I view music, jazz in particular. Svensson was the leader of the European trio E.S.T. which, though the initials stand for the obvious, was truly a co-operative unit with bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrum. The pianist wrote the music initially but the three musicians sculpted it in such a way that there really wasn't a typical jazz situation of 'leader & sidemen' but rather a band. I think that is what appealed to me the most about the group - they created jazz music rich in improvisation and virtuosity but never at the expense of the overall group sound.

While E.S.T. had become something of a pop phenomenon all over Europe the group never gained the same level of notoriety here in the states. I first learned of their music through a friend who passed along this N.Y. Times piece in 2001. I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy of Somewhere Else Before and later Strange Place For Snow. While I enjoyed the albums I was truly hooked after witnessing an amazing performance to a nearly empty amphitheater at the start of the 2003 SPAC Jazz Festival. Since then I've acquired everything the trio has ever recorded and saw them perform two sets at the Jazz Standard in 2006.

The song that sticks out in my memory from that SPAC performance and also embodies all that I enjoy about E.ST. is "Behind The Yashmak." It's really just a sketch of a tune that's fleshed out with some incredible group interplay and amazing drumming that builds to a frantic climax and abrupt ending. If you have the patience and 15 minutes to spare, I highly recommend putting on a pair of headphones and checking out this version of the tune from last year's Live In Hamburg recording (especially if you don't consider yourself a fan of jazz.) It's truly amazing music.

Behind The Yashmak (Live In Hamburg).mp3

If you like that, go buy some music.

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