Monday, June 16, 2008
There have been a number of shocking deaths in the world of the arts over the last twelve months, but Swedish pianist and composer Esbjorn Svensson's death in a Scuba Diving Accident seems particularly tragic. His trio, est, divided opinion, with purists critical of Svensson's limited improvising chops and what they saw as their devaluation of jazz by combining it with performance techniques more familiar from stadium rock (light shows, smoke effects etc). Why such people seemed appalled that jazz could reach a seriously big audience has generally mystified me. What est were doing was massively positive - and Svensson was a sensitive musician and frequently inspired composer. EST could really groove, but they did this with a dignified restraint and remarkable calmness. Svensson contributed a great deal to the raised profile for European Jazz in the 1990s and beyond, and the group never recorded a bad album. I never got to see them live (and I now sincerely regret missing their concert with Polar Bear at the London Jazz Festival two years ago). I had been relishing the prospect of them touring again later in the year, as a new album had been scheduled for release. If that still emerges, it will very sadly be Svensson's last musical statement.