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Culture: Piano jazz fit for the new century; Martin Longley talks to Swedish jazz trio EST which is taking the music scene by storm.

Byline: Martin Longley

Sometimes, for inexplicable reasons, an aura of excitement surrounds a relatively unknown artist. The optimistic view of this condition is that both media and public are reacting spontaneously to an exciting artistic development. The pessimistic possibility is that we are all prey to marketing campaigns.

Over the next few months, Birmingham will be playing host to two beneficiaries of this phenomenon. Both gigs feature piano trios and both are going to be sell-outs.

Next month, Birmingham gets its first visit from Brad Mehldau, and on Friday night we'll be meeting the Swedish Esbjrn Svensson, along with his bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom, which collectively make up EST. EST and Mehldau's trio have both played recently at the nearby Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

The piano is not always the easiest instrument to sell in the world of jazz, particularly when it's presented in an intimate trio format. It's interesting to note that both Svensson and Mehldau are not interested in any kind of compromise or dilution of their music.

Esbjrn and Brad succeed because of their very individuality, their shared aura of intense artistic expression.

I spoke to Svensson just before EST set out on their three-week European tour. Looking back, he thinks that EST's Cheltenham gig was one of their more intensely acoustic performances, a reaction to the womb-like acoustics of the Everyman Theatre. The band has a very lyrical, meditative approach, but this is balanced by the appearance of swaying, locked-tight grooves, improvisation that springs from the jamming zone of rock music or the computer-aided repetitions of post-rave dance music.

Svensson and Ostrom grew up together in a very small village. 'We started to play when we were ten or 11-years-old,' he says. 'And, of course, we played rock 'n' roll from the beginning, but we got more and more into improvisation. None of us is a pure jazz musician. We are very much into other kinds of music as well.'

Bass player Dan Berglund joined much later, in 1993, recording When Everyone Has Gone, the trio's first album. Over the last decade, EST has become an extremely stable improvising unit. This hasn't led to any kind of complacency. Instead, their ease with each other allows the three to take more chances, confident in their balancing abilities.

Svensson has been particularly successful since the turn of the century. It was From Gagarin's Point Of View that started to cause ripples in the UK, and then its follow-up, Good Morning Susie Soho, won Jazzwise magazine's CD Of The Year accolade in 2001. This album was chased swiftly by the UK release of an earlier album EST Play Monk, and a live concert broadcast on Radio 3.

Back home in Sweden, EST even enjoyed a place in the mainstream pop chart's top 20. Their latest disc, Strange Place For Snow came out in March, on the German ACT label. Since those sessions, EST have written a lot of new material, some of which is bound to receive an airing on Friday night.

The Snow tunes will provide the core repertoire, but Svensson also promises to look back at some older works, from his Susie Soho and Gagarin albums. EST don't find themselves playing much around Stockholm any more. 'We've been travelling since March, for this new album,' says Esbjrn. 'Around Europe and the States, and, of course, a couple of gigs in Sweden as well. And now we have this three-week tour around Europe.'

There's a definite whiff of EST managing to attract listeners from beyond the usual jazz audience.

'There's a lot of strange influences for a jazz band, like Deep Purple and Jimi Hendrix. With the trio we don't use too many electronics, we like to use it that way, to give an acoustic sound, other kinds of colour.

'Sometimes, a thing that sounds electronic is not even electronic. It might be acoustic. Live, now, when we play, we use some effects on all the instruments, which means we can totally change the sound on every instrument.

'We have some weird sounds coming out of the instruments, sometimes. It depends very much on the room, how the acoustic is, what sounds good in the room. We change the way of playing the music a little bit, according to the acoustics.'

EST don't have much time to contemplate guesting on other people's recordings, although Svensson does appear on trombonist Nils Landgren's new vocal album, Sentimental Journey. Esbjrn tells me that sometime in the future, EST might consider expanding the trio line-up, even if only temporarily. But not right now.

'We're very much satisfied by working only with the trio. There's a lot more to say. We've only just started.'

The Esbjrn Svensson Trio plays at the CBSO Centre on Friday night. There will probably be a scuffle for returned tickets. Box office: 0121 767 4050.


The Esbjrn Svensson Trio is attracting listeners from beyond the usual jazz audience
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 9, 2002
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