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With their all-embracing vision of jazz, Esbjorn Svensson Trio (pianist Esbjorn Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom) was without doubt one of the most widely admired and influential European instrumental ensembles in the first decade of the new millennium. E.S.T., as they came to be known, rode the crest of a wave with their combination of highly singable themes, mesmerizingly chilled grooves and visually stimulating, high energy ‘live’ performances. They filled large rock stadium venues and reached out to non-jazz audiences in a way that has not been equaled in the history of European jazz. Unfortunately, their fame was cut short in 2006 when pianist Svensson died suddenly in a diving accident. The roots of this project go back as far as 2003, when Esbjorn Svensson decided to create a chamber orchestral canvas for his compositions for a series of live international performances. “This was the initial inspiration for E.S.T. SYMPHONY,” says Hans Ek. By both imaginatively expanding upon and saluting the broad-based contemporary sonic universe created by E.S.T. in the first decade of the new millennium, Hans Ek has created on E.S.T. SYMPHONY an enduring and entirely fitting monument to a much-missed and highly inspirational contemporary jazz trio.
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There are really just a few instances in which the orchestrations overpower the music-in a few passages, whole sections (and even multiple sections) play Svennsen's signature anthemic melodies in unison - this device at best only serves to trivialize them, not exalt them, at worst making them sound like bombastic concert band pieces or movie themes. Examples of overly thick orchestration appear in Dodge the Dodo and 800 Streets by Feet, as well as Behind the Yashmak - at these moments even original band members Dave Berglund and Magnus Olstrum have a difficult time conjuring the light, magical spaces the trio so effortlessly manifested, even in the midst of fierce improvisation.
I really liked the inventive inclusion of a pedal steel player - an absolute stroke of genius. Special mention should be made of pianist Liro Rantala, who brings a very sympatico musical presence to the project, respectfully paying hommage to Esborn without trying to imitate him.
I want to close by saying that as a rabid fan of this group and having collected every single album they ever released, I really wanted to love this album. While thus far it hasn't grabbed me the way a new E.S.T. release could, having just come back to it for another spin, I would say overall this is a worthy homage to the band and something most hardcore E.S.T. fans are going to want to add to their collection.
That being said, if you're looking at this album because you're simply dying to hear something new from this amazing one of a kind trio, this release is not going to satisfy that itch. I for one fervently hope ACT will surprise us with something from the vaults, perhaps a live concert that has been held back, which is certainly a possibility. In the meantime, we have this worthy tribute album, and of course we still have E.S.T.'s rather extensive catalog to enjoy.