Music Reviews
2:10 pm
Mon June 25, 2012

A Posthumous Masterpiece Adds To E.S.T.'s Legacy

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 8:51 am

When the pianist Esbjorn Svensson died in a scuba accident in 2008, many fans of his group, the Swedish trio known as E.S.T., wondered if there might be some unreleased experiments lurking in a studio vault. There were. Just out is a disc called 301, which was recorded in 2008 during sessions for the group's final album.

Usually the posthumous album is a downer, a collection of scraps that don't add much to a legacy, but that's not the case with 301. The new set contains some of E.S.T.'s finest work.

E.S.T. was often described as a "jazz" ensemble because its music was primarily instrumental, and because its long treks into the unknown were driven by group improvisation. Really, though, these musicians were sound sculptors. They used strange drones, effects and distortion to create textures far from the typical piano-trio color scheme.

Playing together for more than a decade, they developed an extraordinary sense of interplay that drew on jazz but was defiantly not jazz. In "Three Falling Free Part II," the album's longest piece at 14 minutes, Svensson works with a fairly simple phrase. It gradually gathers momentum until, pretty soon, that kernel of a thought has been twisted around and transformed into a musical thunderbolt.

That's E.S.T. at its most absorbing — off on extended journeys that weave together rock rhythms, free improvisation, classical chord clusters and weird sound effects (some culled from a vintage transistor radio). I've followed the trio for years, and have to admit I was surprised by the intensity of the epics on the new release.

Fans of the band used to say, "You've got to see them live to understand what they do." Those fans were mostly right: In performance, these three attained a ferociousness that was rarely captured on their studio recordings — until now. Alas, it's now impossible to see E.S.T. live. But the kinetic new 301 is, in every sense, the next best thing.

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Transcript

TOM MOON, BYLINE: And finally this hour, a review of an album that's hard to classify. It comes from the instrumental group E.S.T. In 2007, during a tour, the members recorded about two albums' worth of material, but before it could be released, the group's leader, Esbjorn Svensson, died in a scuba accident. Now, some of those recordings have been collected on an album called "301." And our critic Tom Moon says it's some of E.S.T.'s finest work.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: Usually, the posthumous album is a downer, a collection of discarded experiments and scraps that don't add much to a legacy. That's not the case with "301."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: E.S.T. was often described as a jazz ensemble because its music was primarily instrumental and its long treks into the unknown were driven by group improvisation. Really, though, these musicians were sound sculptors. They used strange drones, effects and distortion to lure listeners into surprisingly colorful textures. They drew on jazz, but were defiantly not jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: Playing together for more than a decade, the three musicians of E.S.T. developed an extraordinary sense of interplay. Listen to this conversation from the early stages of a 14-minute piece on this album.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: Pianist Esbjorn Svensson works this fairly simple phrase for a while. It gradually gathers momentum until that kernel of a thought has been twisted around and transformed into this musical thunderbolt.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: That's E.S.T. at its most absorbing, off on extended journeys that weave together rock rhythms, free improvisation, classical chord clusters and weird sound effects - some from a vintage transistor radio. I've followed the trio for years, and I have to admit I was surprised by the intensity of this release. Fans of the band used to say you've got to see them live to understand them. They were mostly right. In performance, these three attained a ferociousness that was rarely captured on studio recordings - until now. It's impossible to see E.S.T. live anymore. But the kinetic "301" is, in every sense, the next best thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The album "301" is by the group E.S.T. Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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