With their diverse, exceptionally inclusive vision of jazz, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (pianist Esbjörn Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund, and drummer Magnus Oström) were among the most widely admired and influential of European instrumental jazz ensembles during the first decade of the 21st century. E.S.T. offered a scintillating combination of hummable themes, warm, chilled, interlocking grooves, and visually stimulating, high-energy performances. In Europe they achieved a level of popularity that allowed them to fill stadium venues and reach jazz and non-jazz audiences alike. They regularly topped pop as well as jazz album sales charts and became the first European band to make the cover of Downbeat. With influences that range from Bartok to Radiohead, the group's music wove classical, rock, pop, and techno tenets through the jazz piano trio setting, augmented with electronic effects and multitrack recording techniques, long before others. They influenced everyone from Brad Mehldau to Mark de Clive Lowe. Though they possessed accomplished jazz chops, as evidenced by 1996's E.S.T. Plays Monk, as time went on they imbued studio recordings like 1999's breakthrough From Gagarin's Point of View, and 2002's German Critic's Prize-winning Strange Place for Snow, with cool mystery and a perverse sense of playfulness. Live offerings, including 2007's Live in Hamburg, showcased a more dynamic and propulsive band, though they never, even in the throes of collective improvisation, were inaccessible to even the most general listeners. Their later offerings, such as 2007's startlingly lucid Tuesday Wonderland and 2008's provocative and tragically posthumous Leucocyte, proved favorites with U.S. audiences as well.
As a child, Esbjorn Svensson was introduced to classical and jazz music through his mother -- a classically trained pianist -- and his jazz record-collecting father. While learning to play, his initial interest was in classical. By the time he reached his teens, however, due to the influence of radio and peers, he gravitated toward rock. He played in garage bands with friends for a time before returning to classical music, and it, via Bartok and Stravinsky and a few others, opened a side door to jazz piano. At 16, he attended a music college to study piano. Following high school graduation, he attended the Royal College of Music, Stockholm, for four years.
In 1990, Svensson enlisted his childhood friend, drummer/percussionist Magnus Öström to create a jazz group. Both had been sidemen in the Swedish and Danish jazz scenes during the '80s. In 1993 they recruited bassist Dan Berglund to round out the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. After working small gigs and sending out demos, they eventually secured a record deal with the prestigious Swedish label Dragon, and released their debut long-player When Everyone Has Gone, in 1993. The trio were workhorses, they played clubs across Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, and most of northern Europe, establishing a reputation for delighting audiences across the Nordic jazz scene. In 1996, they issued the provocative studio offering E.S.T. Plays Monk, which got them on the radio, while their debut live set, Mr. and Mrs. Handkerchief from the previous year, showcased the accessible complexity in the group's persona. These recordings were both so successful that, combined with their sterling live reputation, Svensson was personally nominated for Swedish Jazz Musician of the Year in both 1995 and 1996.
Though E.S.T. released several more acclaimed studio outings over the next couple of years, including the trio's international breakthrough, it was their 1999 ACT debut, From Gagarin’s Point of View, that became their first album issued outside Scandinavia. It was embraced enthusiastically by jazz and rock critics and by esteemed tastemaker British DJ John Peel. With the release of the albums Good Morning Susie Soho (2000) and Strange Place for Snow (2002), the trio drew considerably more attention from U.S. audiences. They spent most of 2002 on an international tour of Europe, Asia, and the U.S. Subsequent studio releases such as Seven Days of Falling (2003) and Viaticum (2005), were equally well-received by critics and music listeners, including indie pop and EDM fans. These resulted in music industry award nominations as well as spots on the jazz and pop charts. A U.S. co-headlining tour with the Bad Plus in 2006 brought them to the attention of college students across the country, resulting in airplay on American jazz, public, and university radio stations. 2007's limpid and labyrinthian Tuesday Wonderland proved a watershed in Europe, England, and Asia. That year they were designated the first European ensemble to have their visage grace the front cover of Downbeat. Taking a short breather after the tour, E.S.T. began composing and trying out material for a studio album while touring Australia, New Zealand, and Asia. They booked studio time in Sydney during a break and completed the studio album Live in Hamburg (whose recordings were taken from the previous tour), issued in November of 2007. After playing several winter and spring shows in early 2008, a summer release date was planned for the album they had in the can, entitled Leucocyte. On June 14, Svensson, his 14-year old son, and an instructor went scuba diving outside Stockholm. Svensson went missing. He was eventually found unconscious in the water. He had sustained serious injuries and was rushed to the hospital via helicopter; it was too late. Svensson was just 44 when he passed.
Leucocyte was released internationally in September amid dozens of media tributes and memorials and widely acclaimed as a new sonic and stylistic vein of exploration for E.S.T. In 2012, 301, another completed studio album taken from the same 2007 sessions that netted Leucocyte, was released by ACT with active participation from Berglund and Öström. In 2013 the remaining pair began touring with Swedish arranger and conductor Hans Ek, performing symphonic versions of the trio's songs. The album E.S.T. Symphony was released by ACT in 2016 to universal acclaim. A 2005 concert was released as E.S.T. Live in London in 2018, followed by E.S.T. Live in Gothenburg a year later. The latter release was drawn from a significant 2001 concert. Its repertoire comprised tracks from Good Morning Susie Soho and From Gagarin's Point of View; material chosen because Svensson regarded it as among the best in the band's career.
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