The Esbjörn Svensson Trio, or E.S.T., has retained its popularity even in the wake of Svensson’s death in a scuba accident in 2008. This CD is the second disc of material recorded in Studio 301 in Sydney, Australia in 2007. (The first disc, Leucocyte, was released in 2008.)
The trio’s music blends the chilliness of modern Scandinavian jazz with a pop/rock sensibility. That fusion allowed them to work with funk grooves, add electronic elements to their sound (turning the studio into a fourth instrument in the process) and generally drag the piano trio into the 21st century. On 301, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström don’t swing as much as they tick forward relentlessly. Öström in particular has a mechanistic sound more reminiscent of Coldplay or Sigur Rós than any jazz player on tracks like the extended, atmospheric “Inner City, City Lights.” On the even longer “The Left Lane,” though, the group heads into fairly traditional jazz piano-trio territory, eliminating the hissing electronic sounds, the barely-audible sampled voices and the open-ended compositional style in favor of a simple melody that swings. Stylistically the song lands somewhere between Keith Jarrett and Vince Guaraldi, and proves — if it matters to anyone — that E.S.T. could be a “real” jazz group.
Utimately, the problem with this album, as pleasurable as it is at times, is that with Svensson dead, there’s a feeling of emptying the shelves and releasing material that might not have come out in this form were he around to polish it. With three tracks out of seven running well past 10 minutes, it’s easy to believe judicious editing would have turned an occasionally less-than-captivating one-hour disc into a punchier 40- or 45-minute one. Still, there’s a lot here to enjoy, and plenty of reasons to mourn Svensson’s untimely passing. —Phil Freeman