Strange Place for Snow (2002)
Somewhere Else Before (2001)
Sweden may not be the first place that comes to mind when thinking about the future of Jazz, but out of the land of caribou and cloudberries comes the Esbjorn Svensson Trio (known more commonly as E.S.T.), a (mostly) acoustic piano trio that is helping to define, as the New York Times wrote, "Not what jazz was but a vision of what it can be."
What it can be is beautiful music with a base in the styles of Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk, but seasoned with the open sounds of Scandinavian folk music, and fused with modern rock and the occasional shot of electronica.
E.S.T., comprised of pianist Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom, have released two albums in the United States: their latest, A Strange Place for Snow, and 2001's Somewhere Else Before, a compilation of highlights from two earlier European releases. Throughout both albums, Svensson expertly leads the group through seamless changes in tone and tempo from bluesy modality ("The Message" on Strange), to funky ("Dodge the Dodo" on Somewhere Else), to evocative ethereality ("Serenade for the Renegade" and "Carcrash" on Strange, the title track on Somewhere Else), to hyperactivity (Strange's "When God Created the Coffeebreak") and even a little techno (Somewhere Else's "The Wraith").
Groups like E.S.T. help stretch Jazz beyond the stuffy traditionalism that is choking off the American Jazz scene. When I saw them perform in Munich earlier this year, they enveloped themselves in a smoke machine's dry ice fog (a first for me at an acoustic jazz concert). But they have enough ties to the past to make for a comfortable transition for those who want to give their copies of Blue Train and Waltz for Debbie a rest, and enough innovation and energy to help move Jazz into the 21st century.
Strange Place for Snow - *** 1/2 (out of 5)
Somewhere Else Before - **** (out of 5)