by Willard Manus
Their music has been variously called jam band, electronica, a pop band that plays jazz, even a jazz band that plays pop (and classical). These descriptions aside, there is no question that e.s.t., the Swedish trio led by pianist Esbjorn Svensson, is one of the ground-breaking groups of the 21st century.
301, the trio's new album, was recorded in Sydney, Australia's famed Studio 301, back in 2007 when e.s.t. was on tour down under. The trio jammed and experimented for two days, coming up with enough material for 2008's Leucocyte and the album under review here.
301 was actually put together by Svensson's bandmates, drummer Magnus Ostrom and bassist Dan Berglund, with the help of the trio's sound engineer, Ake Linton, who had traveled with e.s.t. for a decade and helped create its trademark sound (running effects, overlaying distortions and add-ins). Sadly, Svensson himself was not involved in 301's production; the pianist died tragically in 2008 while scuba diving.
The interplay between Svensson and his bandmates has been likened to "three mutant bodies with six arms and one brain." Having played together since 1993, the musicians enjoy a rapport that is evident on all seven tracks of 301, some of which run for as long as fifteen minutes. Delicacy, introspection and intensity are the words that best characterize their tunes, one of which (Three Falling Free) keeps building in Ravel-like fashion to a thrilling and madly-swinging climax.