Esbjörn Svensson Trio

I’m like everyone else. I like music. I don’t spend most nights at gigs, or down the vinyl shop flicking through endless stacks and admiring silky sleeves. Nor do I have an intimate knowledge of any band or artist; certainly not with enough confidence to go head to head with a boffin. I like listening to music on my own, or with Mrs, but I don’t speak about it to anyone, let alone discuss it. I just listen. I absorb. I consume. Repeat.

I used to find new music through friends at university. Back in 2002, this was easier than it would be as of today, where I find myself friendless and anti-social. I like people though. I found artists like Bloc Party, White Rose Movement and Nine Inch Nails from the mainstreamers. I found UNKLE, Sigor Ros and Kalexico through the undergrounders. I listened and if I liked it, the only real place to gather these gems was either from Fopp down the shopping center, or as technology developed, through iTunes. Come 2006 I was iTunes library heavy. I would buy CDs off Amazon or eBay and burn it on to iTunes. Screeds and Screeds. Then, after leaving University it all went a bit stale; I’d revolve around my “collection” and not really investigate much; I went through a soundtrack phase listening only to film soundtracks like the magnificent “The Village” by James Newton Howard. iTunes at that point was pretty basic, albeit fairly comprehensive in its catalogue. You could only preview 15 seconds of the song and the infrastructure to throw up new stuff just wasn’t there. Limited, in a sense.

Everything changed a few years ago when Spotify came along. At first shunned by artist and listener alike, it was slowly driven forward towards industry domination, to the point we are at now; every song you can ever imagine or want right there in the palm of your hand, in front of you, ready to be discovered. I was the first in my family to really embrace this new way of discovering music; my brother even now reluctant to give up CDs. It’s an ownership of objects thing; this physical stuff is where the money has been spent, not just given over to the transparent airwaves.

I used to be a drummer and I still now dream of sitting back on that stool and going to town. Instead I spend a lot more time than I really should watching drummers on YouTube; I love watching their individual techniques and styles. The best videos are the ones where artist plays and chats at the same time. Every now and then you’ll stumble upon the magic bullet – a proper lengthy discussion of how and why they became a drummer, the stuff they’ve learned and witnessed over the years of being a professional.

One such video that was really interesting was on the Drumeo channel. A guy called Benny Greb was talking about the art and science of groove. It was my first real exposure, and fundamental understanding and appreciation of the world of Jazz. As it goes with YouTube and later Spotify, watching this one video set me off on a weaving course of discovery, ultimately leading me to hear the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, completely by chance.

The beauty and sometimes major annoyance with YouTube is that it collates what you’ve been trawling through and, the next time you log in, throws up stuff you might be interested in, or not. It seems daft to mention it now because it’s just what happens these days, but I’m now old enough to say with a certain sadness in my voice, that I remember a time that it wasn’t like this. Anyway one such evening I logged on to the YouTube through my telly of all places, (see previous sentence for afore mentioned sadness) and there on the opening screen was a video of a man sat at a piano looking pained, with the title of “E.S.T. Esbjorn Svensson Trio – Jazzwoche Burghausen 2004.” Within the confines of 1 of our earthly minutes, I was completely captivated. Who are these people, what is this beautiful sound they’re producing and who, for the love of Jazz, is Esbjörn Svensson?

I must have played that video, all 1 hour and 14 minutes of it, 20 times over the coming weeks. Mrs was absolutely fed up hearing Dan Berglund’s bass line kick in each time; “NOT THAT BLOODY JAZZ AGAIN” she’d say. Oh yes, I’d say. I was in love; with the melodic, complicated, elegant music these 3 people emanated. Maybe it was the mood I was in; maybe it was the wine. Either way I had been served up on random, a video that would change my musical appreciation forever.

Watching that video led to me open Spotify and search for that man, Esbjörn Svensson. Straight away up popped the Trio’s page and therein the album “Seven Days of Falling.” There has been countless words written about E.S.T. and how bloody game-changing they were but I hadn’t found those yet. I was instead listening in absolute wonderment at the ethereal, liquid, ocean-deep magnificence of “Ballad of the Unborn” which flows beautifully into the one, the only one; the catalyst for my E.S.T. sickness. The album title track, “Seven Days of Falling.”

6:26. It’s a long track anyway, but if I could see my stats for plays on Spotify, I’d imagine they’d be up in the heavy hundreds. I took to YouTube once again, finding videos of this wonderful group; of interviews with the man himself. Countless more hours spent listening to them talk until I reached the saturation point where listening turns to a desire for physically experiencing. I went to Google and searched for “E.S.T. Concerts 2016”.

It’s not often I get caught off-guard but this was a devastation I wasn’t prepared for. In 2008 the man who had captivated me so completely with his virtuoso, emotional, technically magical piano playing, had died as a result of what even now appears to be a mysterious, freak, tragic scuba diving accident. There’s little information of what happened and why. Just that he is no more, and leaves a wife and 2 children.

Obviously I am late to this party by a damn sight longer than everyone else. Even still, what a blow. Searching frantically through Google to uncover more of what happened threw up endless Eulogies and reviews of E.S.T. and their crossover from perceived Jazz boffins to genre-bridging, Radiohead comparing, utterly in-sync musicians who were bringing a freshness and much heralded alt-approach to “Jazz” unlike anything heard before. And now it was over, and had been for a long time.

I’m not alone in my blinkered approach to E.S.T. and their music; a quick read down the comments on YouTube videos reveals a number of people experiencing the same as me; someone mentions E.S.T. to them, fall in love with their music, then try find out more and discover he’s no longer of this earth. How I was able to go for so long and not realise this, I don’t know. What I do know is I went for at least 6 weeks thinking that I had found a new place to pour myself into and be consumed.

It’s one of life’s greatest cruelties played out yet again; a group of three people on the upwards tragectory of absolute success and, just as things are really picking up momentum, it’s cut abruptly and devastatingly short. I am not ashamed to say I almost had a tear in my eye. Might have been the wine again. Probably not.

So now I have to make do with the legacy of E.S.T. Listening to the albums leading up to and after his death; Leucocyte was released posthumously a few months after his death. The album “301” was released 4 years later in 2012, as a collection of un-released, reworked recordings of Svensson’s playing, with new arrangement and accompaniment by Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström. A live album “E.S.T. Live in Hamburg” was released the year before his death and marks one of the highest points in critical E.S.T. praise. It’s seen as one of the best albums they’ve produced despite being a live recording, and I know absolutely why; that fizzle of combustible electric energy that you cannot realistically channel with a studio album, is captured in this live recording. No more is this better presented than the double hit of “Sipping On The Solid Ground” and the utterly arresting improv following it; leading straight in to “Goldwrap” and the incredible dexterity and faster flow, as Öström pumps out that morse-code like rhythm.

It makes me sad when I think about it. I have discovered E.S.T. late and have enjoyed immensely everything I’ve listened to by the Trio. I’ve watched the videos and listened to the live albums and had an outsider sense of what it must have been like to witness E.S.T. in full-flow live. I’ll never get to witness the magic of E.S.T. properly live. I’ll never get to listen to new music by these three people, who seemed to have an almost telepathic connection to each other’s playing; you can see it in their live videos and hear it on the live album. One of life’s cruelties indeed.

When it comes to Spotify there’s a brilliant little button that you can push called “Go to Song Radio” and when this thing is activated, the little robots that work all this stuff out jump in to action and serve up to me, kind of like YouTube but better, a selection of songs that go nicely with the song I’ve just been listening to. By using this clever little feature I’ve now went on to discover a massive world of new music like Tonbruket, Enrico Pieranunzi, Mammal Hands and Toe. I’ve found Wintergatan, Outfit, The Boxer Rebellion and so many others.

Each time I find a new artist or group and I listen. As I listen I feel the suspense build as I subconsciously hope that, maybe this time, I’ll have found a group that makes me feel like E.S.T. did when I first heard “Seven Days of Falling.” Each time as I listen through an album I get slowly disheartened, no more so than with Jazz trios.  It starts well and there’s an essence of E.S.T. there, but in quick step it kicks off in yet another whirlwind of off-timing and disconnect. Sometimes I get used to it and power through the dissonance, maybe learning to appreciate the technical skill; but it all evaporates whenever the first few notes from Berglund’s bass sounds out from “Seven Days…” and I realise yet again, that nothing can ever come close to E.S.T. for me.

I’ve never experienced this before with music; the total devotion to a certain group or person’s music that transcends and leaves you desperate to keep listening. I guess it’s akin to the connection some have with the Beatles; maybe Taylor Swift for others. That complete acceptance and embrace of music. It makes the loss of Svensson, even now almost a decade later, difficult to accept.