“The Trio That Should Have Reshaped Jazz” — an essay by Scott Archer Jones

November 15th, 2019

.

.

 

photo Pkobel/Creative Commons

photo by Pkobel/Creative Commons

Esbjörn Svensson Trio in concert, Jazz Festival Paris 2007, parc floral – Dan Berglund, Esbjörn Svensson, Magnus Öström

.

___

.

 

 

The Trio That Should Have Reshaped Jazz

Scott Archer Jones

.

.

 

…..2008.  On the seafloor of the Stockholm archipelago near Ingarö the tides swept a body not yet dead back and forth, in eddies of dust that tornadoed up into black, cold water. Jazz had missed its chance again.

…..Each decade gifted people kick jazz down the road like a can, people like Joshua Redman, Nicholas Payton, Herbie Hancock, the Brecker Brothers. These incredible musicians keep it alive and vibrant, but don’t change the rules, just commit little adulteries. They try a flirtation with the jam bands and dalliances with fusion, a visitation from funk, a drop-in from a pop singer, a cover of a U2 song. But for fifteen years a change existed that could have remade Jazz – Esbjörn Svensson (piano), Dan Berglund (double bass) and Magnus Öström (drums) – together the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. They stitched together new forms of jazz for themselves and could have done it for Jazz. Albums from Winter in Venice to Leucocyte, from 1997 to 2008, laid out a new roadmap. Esbjörn Svensson grasped an intuition that bridged from Thelonious Monk to some future where the sound could be clear, complex, as far away from trite as Jazz should be. EST promised us a return to melody and tune, promised us rhythms as polysyllabic as the Tower of Babel, promised us jazz musicians could be rock gods. The new aspiration for the human musician rolled out not from America, but from Sweden.

…..EST arose out of Scandinavian weirdness drenched in alternative world view. Sure, the Scan’s all knew the chords to “Rollin’ on the River” and formed garage bands. But they also produced Iceland’s Sigur Rós, Norway’s Annebjorn Lien, Stien Carstensen’s Farmers Market and Kaisers Orchestra.

…..Esbjörn Svensson grew up in a house full of music, but wanted to play drums, not the piano that waited in the front room. He knew Zappa before Jarrett, “Bad Moon” before “Green Dolphin Street.” The early me-too years of rock and roll bands popped a 16-year-old into music college and then into the Royal College of Music in Stockholm – kind of explains the Chopin accidentals, doesn’t it? Gigs with trios and quartets in the Stockholm scene sucked Esbjörn out of Classical. By 1997 he didn’t record covers anymore and the band EST pounded off into a new vision of what music can be. In 1999 the album From Gagarin’s Point of View told the world they had arrived. And the world saw a true collaboration. Esbjörn had his name up front, but was nothing without Berglund and Öström.

…..How did we discover EST? The Scandinavians experienced the Trio as a deepening, a broadening, a journey into experimentation because they bought the albums in chronological sequence. Outside of Europe, record companies made sporadic releases out of order and unevenly – Sony killed an album release in the USA while hyping it tremendously in Japan. Many Americans thought EST had taken time off to make an homage album of Thelonious Monk standards (not true – an early release late arriving to iTunes). Here in the USA “Dodge the Dodo” splashed onto the Internet in five versions, clued us into the huge range of improvisation possible within a single rhythmic construct. I myself bought the Susy Soho album in Stavanger Norway, then heard earphone bleed of Spam-Boo-Limbo from the guy next to me on a flight into Amsterdam. And of course, the Bill Evans fans blew off EST because the track names were too fanciful: “Definition of a Dog,” “Did They Ever Tell Cousteau,” “When God Created the Coffee Break,” “Fading Maid Preludium,” “Mingle in the Mincing Machine,” “Behind the Yashmak,” “Eighty-eight Days in My Veins,” “A Picture of Doris Traveling with Boris.”

 

…..Here . . . you’ll see. Watch them bust up genres and wow the crowds. We present a live performance of “Seven Days of Falling” followed by “Elevation of Love.” They begin with the lyrical “Seven” and then “Elevation” with shining drums, urgent and loving, while the double bass wails like nothing you’ve ever heard, not even Jimmy Page bowing his guitar.

 

…..Now brace up for one of their songs without words as it flows by like a river, faster than you think, and hides the 5/4 beneath its bar-less structure. Listen to Magnus granting us very few bass kicks, but a running syncopation on the high drums and rim shots like a marching band in overdrive. “Eighthundred Streets by Feet” – live in Hamburg.

 

…..And they give you a 10-minute lighthearted funk named “Good Morning Susie Soho”this a live version with incredible Dan Berglund work. This cut belongs to Dan, but couldn’t exist without the drums and piano – the damped piano brings John Cage in, but only as a need to build the right percussive sound.

 

…..How about melancholy Swedes in the dead night of winter, the piece that started it all for them? “From Gagarin’s Point of View,” the opening mournful as only the Scandinavians can be.

 

 

 

 

…..Want a rock band? The official Leucocyte album video, laying out how the album grew out of a series of jamming improvisational recordings – two days at a hit, and a huge mine of empathy between the players.

…..But Esbjörn Svensson died in 2008. As important as we understand Berglund and Öström to be, they haven’t recreated the magic. A scuba accident at forty-four created a permanent nightmare for his fourteen-year-old son – diving that day with his father – and a cultural myth for the rest of us. But it should create a rage. We don’t need another Joplin or Hendrix or Lester Young – the music tells us that we needed the delivery on the promise. Frigid Swedish waters robbed us of the break-out years. We lost the spawning of bands and talent that should have started where these three had begun, shoving it farther out, closer to a horizon called Jazz.

…..How should we remember Esbjörn Svensson? Remember his shaved head and black tee shirt. Picture an arched muscular man bent over the keyboard, crawling into the piano case to muffle the bass strings. Recollect how he drove a quartet that experimented with mechanical noise, hurtled right over the audience with Scots martial drumming and intricate trills of snare, buoyed up one of the strangest and most inspiring bassists in the world. Remember a shy man who didn’t know how to be ordinary. Remember him as not caring what had defined jazz, only what the music could be.

.

.

___

.

.

 

Scott Archer Jones is currently trapped in his sixth novel and second novella. He lives in northern New Mexico, after stints in the Netherlands, Scotland, and Norway, plus less exotic locations.  He’s worked for a power company, a lumberyard, an energy company, a winery, and a library. He has four  books out, through Southern Yellow Pine and Fomite.

.

.

.

Share this:

One comments on ““The Trio That Should Have Reshaped Jazz” — an essay by Scott Archer Jones”

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In this Issue

photo courtesy John Bolger Collection
Philip Clark, author of Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time, discusses the enigmatic and extraordinary pianist, composer, and band leader, whose most notable achievements came during a time of major societal and cultural change, and often in the face of critics who at times found his music too technical and bombastic.

Spring Poetry Collection

A Collection of Jazz Poetry – Spring, 2020 Edition There are many good and often powerful poems within this collection, one that has the potential for changing the shape of a reader’s universe during an impossibly trying time, particularly if the reader has a love of music. 33 poets from all over the globe contribute 47 poems. Expect to read of love, loss, memoir, worship, freedom, heartbreak and hope – all collected here, in the heart of this unsettling spring. (Featuring the art of Martel Chapman)

Interview

Ornette Coleman 1966/photo courtesy Mosaic Images
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Ornette Coleman: The Territory And The Adventure author Maria Golia discusses her compelling and rewarding book about the artist whose philosophy and the astounding, adventurous music he created served to continually challenge the skeptical status quo, and made him a guiding light of the artistic avant-garde throughout a career spanning seven decades.

Poetry

Mood Indigo by Matthew Hinds
An invitation was extended recently for poets to submit work that reflects this time of COVID, Black Lives Matter, and a heated political season. The first volume of this poetry is now published.

Features

Red Meditation by James Brewer
Creative artists and citizens of note respond to the question, "During this time of social distancing and isolation at home, what are examples of the music you are listening to, the books you are reading, and/or the television or films you are viewing?”

Interview

A now timely 2002 interview with Tim Madigan, author of The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. My hope when I produced this interview was that it would shed some light on this little-known brutal massacre, and help understand the pain and anger so entrenched in the American story. Eighteen years later, that remains my hope. .

Poetry

"Sister" by Warren Goodson
"Shit's About To Go Down" -- a poem by Aurora M. Lewis

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Dave Brubeck: A Life in Time – the author Philip Clark writes about the origins of the book, and his interest in shining a light on how Brubeck, “thoughtful and sensitive as he was, had been changed as a musician and as a man by the troubled times through which he lived and during which he produced such optimistic, life-enhancing art.”

Interview

NBC Radio-photo by Ray Lee Jackson / Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, acclaimed biographer James Kaplan (Frank: The Voice and Sinatra: The Chairman) talks about his book, Irving Berlin: New York Genius, and Berlin's unparalleled musical career and business success, his intense sense of family and patriotism during a complex and evolving time, and the artist's permanent cultural significance.

Book Excerpt

In the introduction to Maria Golia’s Ornette Coleman: The Territory and the Adventure – excerpted here in its entirety – the author takes the reader through the four phases of the brilliant musician’s career her book focuses on.

Art

Art by Charles Ingham
"Charles Ingham's Jazz Narratives" connect time, place, and subject in a way that ultimately allows the viewer a unique way of experiencing jazz history. This edition's narratives are "Nat King Cole: The Shadow of the Word," "Slain in Cold Blood" and "Local 767: The Black Musicians’ Union"

Interview

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection
Richard Crawford’s Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music is a rich, detailed and rewarding musical biography that describes Gershwin's work throughout every stage of his career. In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview, Crawford discusses his book and the man he has described as a “fresh voice of the Jazz Age” who “challenged Americans to rethink their assumptions about composition and performance, nationalism, cultural hierarchy, and the racial divide.”

Jazz History Quiz #139

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
This bassist played with (among others) Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, Nat “King” Cole (pictured), Dexter Gordon, James Taylor and Rickie Lee Jones, and was one of the earliest modern jazz tuba soloists. He also turned down offers to join both Duke Ellington’s Orchestra and the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. Who is he?

Interview

photo unattributed/ Public domain
In a Jerry Jazz Musician interview with The Letters of Cole Porter co-author Dominic McHugh, he explains that “several of the big biographical tropes that we associate with Porter are either modified or contested by the letters,” and that “when you put together these letters, and add our quite extensive commentary between the letters, it creates a different picture of him.” Mr. McHugh discusses his book, and what the letters reveal about the life – in-and-out of music – of Cole Porter.

Short Fiction

photo Creative Commons CC0
Short Fiction Contest-winning story #53 — “Market & Fifth, San Francisco, 1986,” by Paul Perilli

Photography

photo by Veryl Oakland
In this edition of photographs and stories from Veryl Oakland’s book Jazz in Available Light, Frank Morgan, Michel Petrucciani/Charles Lloyd, and Emily Remler are featured

Interview

photo by Fred Price
Bob Hecht and Grover Sales host a previously unpublished 1985 interview with the late, great jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, who talks about Miles, Kenton, Ornette, Tristano, and the art of improvisation...

Interview

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
Con Chapman, author of Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges discusses the great Ellington saxophonist

Humor

photo by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
"Louis Armstrong on the Moon," by Dig Wayne

Pressed for All Time

A&M Records/photo by Carol Friedman
In this edition, producer John Snyder recalls Sun Ra, and his 1990 Purple Night recording session

Interview

photo by Bouna Ndaiye
Interview with Gerald Horne, author of Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music

Great Encounters

photo of Sidney Bechet by William Gottlieb/Library of Congress
In this edition of "Great Encounters," Con Chapman, author of Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, writes about Hodges’ early musical training, and the first meeting he had with Sidney Bechet, the influential and legendary reed player who Hodges called “tops in my book.”

Poetry

The winter collection of poetry offers readers a look at the culture of jazz music through the imaginative writings of its 32 contributors. Within these 41 poems, writers express their deep connection to the music – and those who play it – in their own inventive and often philosophical language that communicates much, but especially love, sentiment, struggle, loss, and joy.

“What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?”

"What are 4 or 5 of your all-time favorite Blue Note albums?"
Dianne Reeves, Nate Chinen, Gary Giddins, Michael Cuscuna, Eliane Elias and Ashley Kahn are among the 12 writers, musicians, and music executives who list and write about their favorite Blue Note albums

In the Previous Issue

Interviews with three outstanding, acclaimed writers and scholars who discuss their books on Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter, and their subjects’ lives in and out of music. These interviews – which each include photos and several full-length songs – provide readers easy access to an entertaining and enlightening learning experience about these three giants of American popular music.

In an Earlier Issue

photo by Carol Friedman
“The Jazz Photography Issue” features an interview with today’s most eminent jazz portrait photographer Carol Friedman, news from Michael Cuscuna about newly released Francis Wolff photos, as well as archived interviews with William Gottlieb, Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, a piece on Milt Hinton, a new edition of photos from Veryl Oakland, and much more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive