A posthumous solo album reveals the melancholy of a jazz star

After the death of Esbjörn Svensson, pianist and one of Europe’s most influential jazz musicians, in a scuba diving accident in 2008, his wife, Eva, spent some time in the family basement , backing up all of its tapes. Among them, she and sound engineer Åke Linton found a corrupt Logic file and a scratched CD, both named “Solo”.

Svensson recorded 11 studio albums with his trio EST over a 15-year recording period, but never solo. It’s a different experience to hear her husband’s music outside of the trio, Eva said in a recent video interview.

“It’s a new landscape to explore. And of course, a new landscape inside too,” she said, pointing to her heart.

The intriguingly named CD and file were initially unusable, but in 2017, following Eva’s decision to review the tapes, Linton rescued the audio files, revealing nine nearly pristine solo piano tracks, recorded just weeks before her death. by Svenson. The record, “Home.s.”, was released Nov. 18 and is just one of a recent series of projects exploring Svensson’s legacy as a genre transition artist.

In 1993 Svensson and his childhood friend Magnus Öström, a drummer, met bassist Dan Berglund and formed the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. The band added the initials EST on their early albums, to distract Svensson and project a sense of equality between the three players.

“It became a cooperative,” jazz journalist and author Stuart Nicholson said in a phone interview, adding “that’s part of how the trio’s sound developed so distinctively.”

The trio were best known for their groundbreaking international albums “From Gagarin’s Point of View” and “Good Morning Susie Soho”, which synthesized pop, rock and Nordic folk influences, and approached this mix “in the spirit of jazz” (the motto adopted by their label, ACT). Svensson might have wanted to share the limelight, but the EST gigs were high-production performances, combining tasteful light displays and smoke machines with accessible melodies to create a more concert-like atmosphere. rock.

“You didn’t have to be a jazz lover to like their tracks,” Linton, who was EST’s longtime sound engineer, said in a recent video interview. The success of the instrumental trio allowed jazz-based music to become popular in the European mainstream. The 2005 record “Viaticum” charted on the German and French pop charts and went platinum in Sweden, where it debuted at No. 5, just above U2 and John Legend.

In 2006, the band’s first cover of DownBeat Magazine was titled “Europe Invading!” “, proof of the somewhat icy reception that the trio receives from the establishment of jazz in America, where it has never been very prominent.

No one around Svensson knew he was working on “Home.s.”, which was named by Eva. It was clear that the tracks weren’t just ideas for later exploration with the trio due to the file tagging and precise compositional structures. “He was a private person,” Linton said, adding that he “didn’t tell anyone, not even his wife.”

The album – which offers a handful of classical music and Nordic jazz reference points, including Chopin and Shostakovich, as well as Jan Johansson’s popular 1963 album “Jazz På Svenska” – finds Svensson alone, in a musical space melancholic and has the distinct feeling of an artist drawing on his intimate and inner language. “We’re almost privy to his innermost musical thoughts,” Nicholson said.

But the sound of “Home.s.” was still familiar to those close to Svensson. Eva described the album’s music as “a kind of soundtrack to our everyday life”. After the EST ended with a sound check, Svensson “still stuck around playing stuff in the room,” Linton said. “And now, when I think about it, what was probably going on is that he was doing this stuff without knowing it, but he would never talk about it.”

Nicholson recalls spending time at an EST recording session in Stockholm, when Svensson warmed up to Shostakovich’s music that demonstrated the full extent of his classical upbringing, in a way which he had not shown with the EST. come on don’t you reveal that part of you?’” Nicholson said. “He said, ‘It’s not me. I can do it, but that’s not how I feel and understand music.

Despite the intimate feel of Svensson’s solo work, “when I found the album, I had this strong feeling that I wanted to share it,” Eva said.

To create “Home.s.”, she wanted to create a shared experience, like an album listening party. It premiered in September at Stockholm’s Sven-Harry’s Museum, in surround sound and accompanied by a new suspended sculpture by Jennie Stolpe, then paired with visuals designed by David Tarrodi (the director of the 2016 documentary, “A Portrait of Esbjörn Svensson”) and Anders Amrén (EST regular lighting designer) as part of an online event.

The visuals arranged by Tarrodi and Amrén echo the melancholy tone of Svensson’s solo album. The pair’s 36-minute video piece began with small piles of sand, kaleidoscopically distorted through different lenses; then, sun-bleached images of a family emerged; next, grainy images of America, all recorded by the album. The sound was melancholic, the visuals muted, but the combination never descriptive or poetic.

Andrew Mellor, author of “The Northern Silence: Journeys in Nordic Music and Culture,” described melancholy in the region “as a discipline. It is also a kind of hobby in Scandinavia.

One way to survive the “brutal” winter is through art, he added: “There is literature by Ibsen and Knut Hamsun, films by Lars von Trier, and there is music by Bent Sørensen.”

On “Home.s.”, the melancholy twists inward. “It says ‘it’s about me that I’m watching myself, more than telling me a story,'” Mellor said.

When Eva first heard the album, she was like “‘wow, that’s her voice,'” she said. “It couldn’t be someone else’s.”

nytimes Eur

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