Who is Esbjorn Svensson?

If you asked me that question a few days ago it would have been greeted with a blank stare. As it turns out while I was surfing Youtube looking for something completely unrelated (Darbuka / Turkish split finger technique) in the sidebar a group called E.S.T. (Esbjorn Svensson Trio) caught my eye. It was  a jazz piano trio playing an old Thelonious Monk tune Bemsha Swing but playing it unlike any version I had heard before. It was a knockout, more so because even as an avid jazz fan I had never heard of this group. Here is a link to the Youtube EST playing Bemsha Swing

Here is the entry in Wikipedia: “Esbjörn Svensson (April 16, 1964 – June 14, 2008) was a Swedish jazz pianist and founder of the jazz group Esbjörn Svensson Trio, commonly known as E.S.T. Svensson became one of Europe’s most successful jazz musicians at the turn of the 21st century before dying at the age of 44 in a scuba diving accident.

Svensson was introduced to both classical music and jazz very early in life through his mother, a classical pianist, and his father, a jazz enthusiast, and first showed interest in classical music. In his teenage years, he developed an interest in rock music and started a few garage bands with classmates, before going back to classical music and finally making his way towards jazz. At age 16, Svensson went to a music college, where he took piano lessons. He later studied at the Royal College of Music, Stockholm, for four years.

In 1990, Svensson started his own jazz combo with his childhood friend Magnus Öström on percussion. Both had made their first appearances on stage as sidemen in the Swedish and Danish jazz scene during the 1980s. In 1993, bassist Dan Berglund joined the duo, and the Esbjörn Svensson Trio was born. The trio released its debut album, When Everyone Has Gone, in 1993, and in the following years established itself in the Nordic jazz scene. Svensson was nominated for Swedish Jazz Musician of the Year in 1995 and 1996.

Rise to prominence, success, and death

The trio’s international breakthrough came with their 1999 album From Gagarin’s Point Of View, their first album to be released outside Scandinavia. With the release of their albums Good Morning Susie Soho (2000) and Strange Place For Snow (2002), the trio drew the attention of United States audiences. In 2002, they went on a 9-month tour through Europe, the U.S. and Japan. Their subsequent albums, Seven Days Of Falling (2003), Viaticum (2005), and Tuesday Wonderland (2006), were equally well received by critics and fans and resulted in several music industry award nominations as well as making the jazz and pop charts.

E.S.T. was the first European jazz combo to make the front page of the American jazz magazine Down Beat (May 2006 issue). Their last live album, E.S.T. Live in Hamburg, a recording of their fall 2006 concert in Hamburg, Germany, as part of the Tuesday Wonderland Tour, was released in November 2007. Before Svensson’s death, the trio was working on the concept of integrating electronic and mechanical sound expansions into a jazz trio context. E.S.T.’s last performance took place in Moscow, Russia, at the Tchaikovsky Hall, on May 30, 2008. In addition to his work with E.S.T., Svensson recorded albums with Nils Landgren, Lina Nyberg and Viktoria Tolstoy.

On June 14, 2008, Svensson went missing during a scuba diving session on Ingarö outside Stockholm, Sweden. His diving companions, including an instructor and his then-14-year old son, eventually found him lying unconscious on the seabed.[1][2] Having sustained serious injuries, he was rushed to Karolinska University Hospital by helicopter, but could not be saved. He was 44 years old, married and the father of two sons.[3]”

So it just goes to show that there is something new to be found everyday.  If you are into jazz, or even into rock check out EST.


Unexpected Benefits


My son informs me that with the advent of the digital age people fall into two categories. Those that are still into molecules and those that are into bits and bytes. I am afraid I fall into the former group. I don’t own an IPod, I don’t down load (that seems like too much work to me) and I prefer to listen to music without the aid of headphones. Regardless of how loud or obnoxious the music is a set of headphones still tends to put me to sleep. I also need molecules; I need to have something in my hand. It means it exists and won’t disappear when the wrong button is accidently pressed. I like to flip open the CD, peruse the cover art, liner notes and, if included, lyrics are a real bonus.

I have listened to and collected recorded music ever since I was a teenager. I have avoided some, but not all, of the technical missteps. For instance I have never owned an eight track player and I never was a big fan of cassettes. I preferred reel-to-reel tapes (okay, okay, that was a misstep). But having said that I think I have successfully navigated my way though most of the technological changes of the past half century. I even collected 78 rpm recordings at one stage. When CDs came on the market in the early eighties I immediately jumped on the band wagon and have been collecting CDs vigorously ever since. It meant I no longer had to preserve the original recording by transferring the vinyl LP to tape. I was not alone in this somewhat strange pursuit of permanency. Lots of guys, never the ladies, upon the purchase of a prized album would immediately record it onto tape and keep the original, in a pristine and safe condition, stored in some safe place waiting for the eventful day when the car stereo or some other misadventure destroyed the taped copy.

Yes, CDs where the great leap forward. No more static build up, scratches or pops that, for me at least, interfered with my listening pleasure. Now it was  just pristine broad band sound. There are luddites around of course who insist that vinyl is, or was, the best recorded sound and by comparison CDs are harsh and ear fatiguing. Ferdy Belland, an expatriate Cranbrook bass player now living in Vancouver, on a recent tour through the area wrote a newspaper article where he claimed it “had been proven” that the physical contact of the needle on vinyl produced a more psychological pleasing sound. That sounds like fantasy to me or at least nostalgia for a bygone musical era. In his article he noted that bands are going back to releasing their material on vinyl. This is partly true but I can’t see it gaining a significant market share. After all who still actually owns a high end turn table. Those of us who lived though the “snap, crackle and pop” era of the 60’s and 70’s have no real need or desire to re-invent that very shaky wheel.

It is kind of ironic that at the height of the vinyl era there was a concerted effort both in recording and play back technology to obtain the best fidelity possible. The quality of one’s stereo system was a measure of self worth. Next to a really hot car it was all that really mattered. Pretty shallow eh! So, as I said, it is ironic that when this purist goal of perfect sound actually came within reach fidelity standards were down graded to accommodate the digital mp3 era. The new goal was capacity and convenience rather than fidelity. Not for me. The CD is a superior storage media with better quality sound. Despite early claims, they are not indestructible, but with minimal care can be relied on to last for at least my life time or what little there is left of it.

 And yet there is a hidden plus side to this push to the lower mp3 standards and the constant quest for over capacity. The president of ARCHIV (a Classical CD distribution site) recently stated that lovers of classical music are living in a golden era of recorded music. He’s right you know. The major labels, and some of the not so major labels have huge inventories of very high quality material stretching back over 50 years. They are in the process of repackaging and releasing this material at a quality and a price that cannot be matched in the download arena. For instance I recently acquired a 15 CD boxed set of Joseph Haydn’s “The Complete Music for Solo Keyboard” for less than the regular price of 3 CDs (around $60 including shipping). That’s 17 hours of music  recorded by Ronald Brautigam on a reconstructed pianoforte. As a musical endeavor and recording project it is mind boggling. A musician, a major interpreter no less, studied, polished and recorded a great chunk of a major composer’s output and released it in a conveniently minimal package. It is not only a startling beautiful recording it is at a price that there is no way you would spend or would want to spend the time and effort to download the inferior product from iTunes. And that is only the beginning of the deluge. I have seen complete box sets of Bach, Haydn, Vivaldi etc. These 150 CD collections have been listed at $150 and I have even seen them on sale for $100. That’s less than a buck a CD. I now rarely purchase single CDs of classical music – the boxed sets are just too good to pass up. And there is the added bonus of the documentation included with the sets that is just not available with an iTune download. That’s more molecules to enhance my listening experience.

Similar things are happening in the Jazz world. The deals may not be as lucrative but there is still a wealth of material out there. The Jazz label Mosaic has been in the market of boxed sets for around twenty years and is producing material that is exemplary in sound quality, documentation and packaging. Most of the material is generally unavailable anywhere else. Everything from vintage recordings of the early giants of the 20s though to the late 60s.The re-mastering and packaging is unbelievably good. These box sets run from around $80 to $180 depending on the number of CDs in the collections. Considering the quality of the material it is still a pretty good deal. Interestingly enough Mosaic still produces and markets high end vinyl sets.

The folkloric, world music and the world of popular music are under represented in this bonanza of recorded material. Most of the pop world is image and celebrity driven and generally not of much musical interest anyway so that’s no great loss. Bad luck about the other non-mainstream material. It is out there, it is somewhat available but unfortunately, comparatively expensive.

So luddites all, enjoy your “snap, crackle and pop” world to your hearts content. Down loaders, if you have the time and don’t care about true high fidelity just go right ahead and plunder iTunes for all its worth. For me I am very happy taking advantage of the current  “golden era” of recorded music.

For Classical Music check  http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/main.jsp

For Jazz check http://www.mosaicrecords.com/