Thelonius Monk was one of the truly great piano geniuses on the international jazz scene.
Esbjörn Svensson is one of the truly great piano talents on the Scandinavian jazz scene.
In some way you knew that they had to meet sooner or later. At last spiritually. And musically. "Plays Monk" is the telling title of the CD from 1996 by Esbjörn Svensson Trio (EST), now released on ACT. Ten of the most beloved songs by Monk, from nocturnal, lovingly caressing "`Round Midnight" to the gay and sprightly "Rhythm-A-Ning", gets here a becomingly shining new colour.
In EST, who previously has released some critically acclaimed albums – "From Gagarin´s Point Of View "(ACT 9005-2), "Winter In Venice" (ACT 9007-2) and lately "Good Morning Susie Soho" (ACT 9009-2) – we have Magnus Öström on drums, Dan Berglund on double-bass and, of course, Esbjörn Svensson himself, who was an infant when he practically learnt to walk to the sound of "In Walked Bud".
"My father was and is a great jazz lover. So I was very young when I first came in touch with Monk´s music. He is the kind of composer that cannot be avoided", says Esbjörn Svensson. The music of Thelonius Monk is a peculiar mixture of simplicity and and complexity; of larguorous ballads and rhythms turned inside out. The music is a challenge. "You can always give it your personal touch", explains Esbjörn.
On "Plays Monk" you notice this over and over again. EST has for instance made is own interpretation of the classic "`Round Midnight", complete with a new string arrangement signed Esbjörn Svensson. The haunting string section is played by four members of the Swedish radio Symphony Orchestra.
Both Monk and EST have a common determination to go beyond the sometimes rather narrow items of jazz music. This is noticeable if we take a look at the musical past of the trio, who has played with such diverse luminaries as Rebecka Trnkvist, Nisse Landgren, Svante Thuresson, Lisa Nilsson and Louise Hoffsten.
This is definitely a trio who seeks challenges; who wants to try the unexpected. And the spirit of Monk is certainly here, hovering over the recordings that were made together with a producer we do normaly not connect with jazz: Johan Ekelund, who is probably most wellknown as one half of the successful soulpop duo Ratata. "He brought fresh ideas into this project. I certainly hope we can record together gaian", said Esbjörn, who doesn`t want to label himself as ab inventerate jazz purist. Soul and pop is often playd at home, when Esbjörn Svensson himself is there.
EST is a bunch of regular tour horses, doing frequent gigs both in and outside Sweden. They have played both small clubs and big festivals in many countries, for instance Chile, Spain, France, Belgium and Germany. And they have won the hearts of both fans and hardened critics.
After all, the album is called "Plays Monk" – a meeting between talent and geniality. The result? "Rhythm-A-Ning", pure and simple!
The Independent’s critic Stuart Nicholson was clearly moved by the concert. Here we reproduce his thoughtful and vivid review:
“The Esbjorn Svensson Trio, or EST as they like to be known these days, do to the jazz piano trio what James Joyce did to coming-of-age tales by cutting up the form and starting afresh.
“This acclaimed Swedish group have been a hit on the European scene for a while now. In 2000, the German news weekly Der Spiegel hailed Svensson as "the future of the jazz piano", and since then his trio have consolidated their position as one of the top bands on the circuit. They are currently more popular than most big American jazz names.
“Attracting the kind of following EST enjoy prompts accusations - often well founded - of dumbing down. But Svensson is one of those rare musicians who dispenses the common touch without compromising his art. He avoids the usual jazz musician's stock-in-trade of cramming as many notes as he can into the square inch, instead favouring innovative silences and a darkly intense lyricism that allows his emotional honesty to show through.
“Although he once dabbled among the magical spells of the pianist Keith Jarrett's Belonging period, the new spirit Svensson has come up with is shorn of Jarrett's angst and the feeling that a good thing has been taken to wearying extremes. Featured were several tunes from EST's current album, Viaticum (which went gold in France and platinum in Germany), including "Tide of Trepidation", "Eighty-eight Days In My Veins" and the title track.
“The suave use of lighting underlined the shifting moods of EST's music while their careful use of dynamics, unusual in jazz, which usually opts for fast-equals-loud, slow-equals-soft, made Svensson's lyrical intensity stand out in sharp relief. Yet the non-conformist Dan Berglund likes Jimi Hendrix and Richie Blackmore (of Deep Purple) and is not afraid to use a wah-wah pedal or feedback with his acoustic bass ("Mingle In the Mincing Machine"), while the drummer Magnus Ostrom dances around formal regularity with a variety of techniques, such as using his fingers on his snare to emulate pop's rhythm samples.
“EST renew the notion that the cutting edge of jazz need not involve volatile experimentation. At the head of a sense-sharpening breeze of change currently blowing through European jazz, Svensson [..] gave further evidence that the best European jazz is no longer a pale imitation of what is happening in the United States. Indeed, here was evidence that Europe is now moving ahead in creativity and originality.”