EST - Polyphonic spree

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EST return this month with their tenth album, their first since the live version of Viaticum was issued as a special package last year along with the original studio album. Such a remarkable record company response was indicative of the initial album’s popularity, with strong demand in the UK and many other parts of Europe. So much for the album’s title tease that the group was performing its last rites. The group over more than a decade has achieved extraordinary levels of success for a jazz trio on the international jazz circuit, especially in the last five years.

Even the notoriously insular American jazz community has responded warmly, if tardily, to pianist Esbjörn Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström. With their hi-tech light show, cranked up concert hall sound, and positive overtures to young rock fans – crucially without the lovingly honed but ubiquitous Radiohead covers – plus a finely honed post-Jarrett European group mentality, EST make perfect sense. It’s with a sense of the baroque that EST turns to as the backdrop to their new album, as Esbjörn Svensson tells Stuart Nicholson EST - Polyphonic spree
Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, known to piano students throughout the English-speaking world as The-Well Tempered Clavier, may seem an unlikely source of inspiration for EST’s latest album Tuesday Wonderland. After all, Bach’s collection of 48 paired preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys, “compiled and prepared for the benefit and practice of young musicians desirous of learning,” as the translation of the original German title from 1722 reminds us, might not seem at first blush to be the sort of thing calculated to get a jazz musician’s pulse racing. However, for pianist Esbjörn Svensson, these epoch-making studies provided just the sort of compositional challenge he thrives upon.

“My first idea about this album was that I was going to compose Das Wohltemperierte Klavier for the trio,” he says, on a brilliant summer’s morning inside a luxury hotel adjacent to London’s Heathrow airport. He’s just flown in from Stockholm to talk to the UK media about the forthcoming release. “It was a huge project containing one prelude and one fugue in each key, so altogether it was going to be 48 tunes or pieces of music. That was my initial idea and I worked really hard to come up with some music.” However, Svensson has often said he knows an EST track once he has heard it played by the group, but has no idea of what the formula is, even during the compositional process. When he came, then, to try out some of his new compositions with long-time associates Dan Berglund on bass and Magnus Öström on drums, he was disappointed that nothing was working out quite as he intended.

“We tried some of it and we were not really sure. We actually had a recording session, just one day, where we tried out things to see if we were going in the right direction. It really felt, all of us, like it’s OK but it’s not what we should do. There was too much composing, it didn’t really breathe the way EST should breathe. I agreed, even though I composed the music. This project is about the three of us. Everybody has to feel perfect when we play our compositions, otherwise it won’t work.”

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