Esbjörn Svensson: HOME.S. review | John Fordham’s jazz album of the month

This recently discovered piano meditation from the modest maestro behind the Esbjörn Svensson Trio will entrance fans and fascinate newcomers

When Esbjörn Svensson made his UK debut at the 1999 Swedish Jazz Extravaganza festival, the then-34-year-old pianist/composer’s jubilant fusions of Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett and his own playful muse showed exactly why his reputation had begun to spread beyond Sweden. Within three years the pianist and his open-minded Esbjörn Svensson Trio were touring the world, finding a new contemporary audience by merging classic jazz, catchy themes, intricate improv, classical music and rock-crescendo drama.

The story ended tragically nine years later when Svensson died in a scuba diving accident. He left behind a powerful EST back catalogue, augmented by the occasional unearthed live recording. HOME.S. is an uncharacteristic solo-piano meditation the artist made at home shortly before his death, only recently discovered by his widow, Eva. The influence of Jarrett’s solo-piano method is audible, but Svensson’s buoyancy, capriciousness of mood and sweeping melodic resources are all his own. He sometimes opens with dreamily wandering chords or treble-melody fragments, but also includes frisky contrapuntal dances and stately baroque sways. The gorgeous Gamma hints at bluesy soul resolutions that only coalesce at the song’s close. Flying double-time freebop erupts out of gracefully interwoven left-right lines, while quiet harmonies turn to clanging soul-jazz chords pushed by rumbling bass-note boogies in the style of early Abdullah Ibrahim. Longtime Svensson fans will be entranced, and newcomers may catch a fascinated glimpse of why this modest maestro’s early demise was such a loss to contemporary music.

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