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 Tuesday, 01 December 2015
Esbjorn Svensson Dies at 44: A Bright Light Dims on the International Jazz Scene PDF Print
Written by Andrea Canter, Contributing Editor   
Sunday, 15 June 2008

Esbjorn Svensson Andrea Canter
One of Europe’s most popular modern music ensembles suffered a tragic loss yesterday when leader/pianist Esbjorn Svensson died of injuries suffered in a scuba diving accident outside Vrmd, near Stockholm. Svensson, 44, led the trio known as E.S.T. for fifteen years, their impressionistic creations combining acoustic and electronic elements. Acclaimed for over a decade in their native Sweden and throughout Europe, E.S.T. found new popularity in the U.S in recent years. They were awarded "Best International Act” (2003) by the BBC, the Hans Koller Prize as the Best European Artist of 2004, two German Jazz Awards (2002, 2003), a German Jazz Critics Award for “Album of the Year” (2002), the Swedish Export Music Prize (2004), the “Choc L'Annee” (2002) from the French Jazzman magazine, the “Best International Act” (2002) and “Revelation of the Festival” (2003) awards from MIDEM, and numerous Swedish Grammies, including "Jazz Album of the Year” (1996, 1998, 2003).

Born in Västeras, Sweden, son of a classical pianist (mother) and jazz enthusiast (father), Esbjorn Svensson studied music in Stockholm. He heard his father’s jazz records as a child but thought the music was “strange and complicated,” and was initially drawn to 1950s rock and roll. With his friend Magnus Öström, he entered the local rock music scene as a teenager. The duo soon evolved as a piano-drum band, with the two young musicians providing some vocals as well. Gradually, Svensson noted that he started adding chords to a basic 12-bar blues structure, and with the addition of then-rock bassist Dan Berglund, E.S.T. was launched in 1993.

EST Andrea Canter

Difficult to classify with influences of classical, pop and techno as well as rock and jazz, E.S.T. has been described as “the more elegant alternative to the Bad Plus; they share a similar penchant for song-like structure, but with a more delicate approach” (John Kelman, All About Jazz). The trio worked as a unit, equally sharing compositional credits; Svensson— with a style recalling early Jarrett but more spacious and restrained, and less ruminative— wrote most of the melodies, while Berglund and Öström collaborated with the pianist on arrangements. Noted Svensson, “Individual expression has to be there, but when we solo, we improvise together so it’s more like a conversation between all three of us.”

Five recordings were released in Europe during the 90s, but most American audiences probably had no clue of E.S.T until Columbia issued a compilation of these early recordings as Somewhere Else Before in 2000. A Strange Place for Snow (Columbia) followed in 2002, including influences as diverse as Radiohead and Bartok. Of this recording, Svensson said, “We recorded most of the tracks…first as an acoustic jazz trio, then we revisited many of them to overdub grooves, electronic distortion and layered effects. But we also went into the studio earlier…and just played without any guidelines to see what we could come up with…Overall, the CD is like a long journey, with all the tunes connected."

Next came Seven Days of Falling (215 Records, 2003), a subtle shift of direction for the trio toward a more contemplative, ethereal sound. Released in the US in 2004, Seven Days was hailed as “that rare thing, an immediately accessible instrumental jazz album… a delicious banquet of timbres, melodies, harmonies and feels” (John Walters, The Guardian). Critics’ Poll Awards in 2004 and 2005 from Downbeat Magazine fueled anticipation for the follow-up, Viaticum (215 Records, 2005), which reinforced the darker, more reflective nature of the trio in the new century. In fall 2006, the band released its tenth recording, Tuesday Wonderland, a few months after becoming the first European ensemble on the cover of Downbeat. Much of the material from this studio recording became the playlist for their last release, Live in Hamburg (ACT Records, 2007). Noted John Kelman of All About Jazz, “Pianist Esbjörn Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Oström have evolved a unique simpatico, one where it’s possible to blend detailed composition with no shortage of group interaction—something that sets it apart, say, from Pat Metheny Group, where there are solos to be had, but the rigors of the material also dictate that the overall structure in performance remains relatively fixed.”

Combining acoustic instrumentation with varying degrees of computer-generated accompaniment, EST pushed the envelope, finding considerable success with cross-generational audiences. Noted EST manager Burkhard Hooper, “Musically, he [Svensson] was the light that lit the world because in what he did he was pushing boundaries... he said he was following the music inside himself. His music inspired people in all corners of the world.”



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