Est, Royal Festival Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It is a mark of either success or presumption when a band decides it can be known only by its initials. In the case of the Esbjorn Svensson Trio it is definitely the former, as the packed Festival Hall showed on the opening night of the London Jazz Festival. This Swedish band has taken the piano trio to a different territory. It is one quite possibly influenced by Keith Jarrett, but the landscapes the EST paint are structured around more minimalist lines: whereas Jarrett's imagination can overwhelm with its complexity, one might call EST's pictures "Jarrett for ordinary human beings". That the result is more easily accessible does not mean it is any less grandiose or touching.

They opened with the title track from their new album, Seven Days of Falling. Introduced by a short figure on Dan Berglund's bass, Svensson joined in with chords that alternated between major and minor keys while Magnus Ostrom kept up a steady pulse with the brushes. He is a remarkably discreet but insistent drummer, whose cymbal-heavy kit contributes greatly to the clarity of separation between the players.

The momentum built slowly, but with the inexorability of a Bach prelude, Berglund producing his bow to sustain long notes high on his bass. Later he switched on a distortion pedal, and cut in with the stately bravado of an electric guitarist in a pomp rock group. In the midst of it all was Svensson's marcato lyricism.

EST's cleanness is the anchor of their sound. The trio traversed many different styles, Monkish passages giving way to an earthy funk reminiscent of Eddie Harris and the gospelly thunder of Harris's sometime partner Les McCann, particularly on a superb EST take on boogaloo blues. On one number the distortion was switched so high on Berglund's bass that it wouldn't have disgraced an Alice Cooper concert. On another Svensson's piano was so dreamy that it felt like a recitative in time. But always, even when the trio showed off their chops, swinging hard and producing a head arrangement as tight as any piano trio, always there was that cleanness. So hearing Root Thing, an eight feel over a steady groove in two with a Herbie Hancock-like piano riff, was like dining at a greasy spoon caff atop a glacier. You might munch on fried bread and sausages, but the ride down is fresh and exhilarating.

This is what lends an EST concert a sense of wordless profundity. Whatever has been built on it, a glacier has, after all, been around for millions of years. And it is what made a two-hour set pass as though it were only one. A consummate performance.