If ever there was a bittersweet listen, it’s Leucocyte, the final studio CD by E.S.T. The trio was named for Esbjörn Svensson, the Swedish bandleader and keyboardist who died in a scuba diving accident near Stockholm in June at age 44. He left behind a wife, two sons, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström, and legions of fans.
Most of those fans were European. E.S.T. played occasional club shows in the United States, but often sold out concert halls overseas. The name Leucocyte refers to cells in the body’s immune system, which must renew themselves to ward off infections. The trio used improvisational jams between official gigs to renew themselves, and recorded the disc during off-days on E.S.T.’s 2007 Australian tour.
Svensson always showed a Keith Jarrett influence, which surfaces on his introductory piano solo, “Decade,” named for the group’s 10-year tenure. On the 17-minute “Premonition Earth,” Berglund’s bass figure leads off, and Öström gradually goes from metallic percussive patterns to machine- gun snare figures to match the intensity of Svensson’s electric piano. The keyboardist alternates between acoustic piano and synthesized sound effects on the sparse “Premonition – Contorted,” then abruptly returns to a piano trio feel on the appropriately titled “Jazz.”
But Svensson’s closing studio statement comes on the four-part title suite. Like Medeski, Martin & Wood, the Bad Plus and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, E.S.T. knew how to mix traditional jazz with rock attitude and bombast. The suite’s first piece, “An Initio,” is a distorted attention-grabber that leads to the experimental “Ad Mortem” and “Ad Infinitum.” Each is packed with the keyboardist’s sharp harmonic sensibilities, and a rhythm section that always knew when to leave room for them. But it’s part two, a moment of silence called “Ad Interim,” that sadly sounds most appropriate.