Following on from Leucocyte, 301 is the second posthumous release from the Esbjörn Svensson Trio since the pianist’s tragic death in 2008. Like Leucocyte, this album is taken from sessions recorded at Sydney’s Studio 301 and points tantalisingly towards new directions that the trio might have taken.
In contrast to the earworm anthems of E.S.T.’s earlier output, much of the material here is scant in terms of pre-composed melodic content and the pieces pivot around minimal harmonic progressions. Nevertheless, the group sustains interest on these extended jams (three of which exceed ten minutes) though searching improvisations, second-to-none group interaction and above all, their ability to build a mood.
The mood is one of Massive Attack-like brooding on ‘Inner City, Inner Lights’, enhanced by atmospheric distortions from sound engineer Ake Linton, effectively the ‘fourth member’ of E.S.T. ‘The Left Lane’ sees Svensson at the peak of his improvisational prowess, stretching out with his characteristically blistering, straight-note flourishes.
The album’s centrepiece is the two-part ‘Three Falling Free’. This progresses from a hushed and elegiac rubato section to some of the group’s most exhilarating rock playing, propelled by a tornado-like assault on the toms from Magnus Öström and the over-driven double bass of Dan Berglund. This is followed by the beautiful closing track, ‘The Childhood Dream’, on which Svensson’s serene playing occasionally hints at Abdullah Ibrahim.
As a whole, this album may not be E.ST.’s most satisfying (my personal choice would be ‘Good Morning Susie Soho’), but repeated listening offers increasing returns and it possibly comes closest of all their studio recordings to capturing the spirit and energy of their much-missed live shows.
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