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Esbjörn Svensson’s Secret Solo Album

A recently discovered 2008 recording shows a different side of the late Swedish pianist/composer

Esbjörn Svensson in 2008
Esbjörn Svensson in 2008 (photo: Katarina Grip Höök © ACT)

The tragic 2008 scuba-diving death of Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson also marked the sudden end of one of Europe’s most popular contemporary jazz outfits, the eponymous e.s.t. (Esbjörn Svensson Trio). Along with bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström, Svensson had fashioned a hybrid approach that incorporated elements from multiple genres and leading-edge technology, appealing to a sizable audience outside of the core jazz fest and clubgoing crowd.

As adventurous as he was, few of Svensson’s associates—not his bandmates, his engineer, not even his wife Eva—were aware that, just weeks before his passing, the 44-year-old had recorded new music in his home that would have extended his reach even further: a solo piano recording, comprising nine self-composed songs that bear little in common with Svensson’s progressive e.s.t. canon. Stashed away on hard drives for 10 years in Eva’s personal archive, the recordings—made without another person present—were not exactly forgotten; they had never even been heard by anyone but their creator.

Now, after an initial public airing at a series of audiovisual concerts in Stockholm in September 2022, they are being released by ACT Music under the title HOME.S.

After discovering the recording, Eva Svensson took it to the Gothenburg, Sweden, home of Åke Linton, e.s.t.’s career-long sound engineer. In a Q&A distributed with the album’s publicity material, Eva Svensson recalled, “We pressed the start button … There was total silence and we couldn’t speak for the entire time the music was playing. After it finished … we were both so touched and surprised … that it was so beautiful.

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Linton, too, was astonished by what he’d heard. “We were like, ‘Wow, this is something we didn’t expect at all,’” he says. “We knew that one day we were gonna do something with this.”

First, though, Linton wanted to be sure that there wasn’t more of this music hiding out someplace. “I said, ‘I think I’ll make a couple of calls to people in Stockholm that he might have done this recording with.’ I called other engineers, even piano tuners. No one knew anything about the record.” Even Öström, the former e.s.t. drummer, heard it for the first time along with others attending one of the Stockholm concerts, held at Sven Harry Museum of Modern Art. There, Linton played the music on a specially designed surround-sound system, accompanied by visuals created by Anders Amrén, e.s.t.’s longtime lighting designer.

Indeed, for anyone familiar with e.s.t.’s recorded output, it takes a minute to accept that these introspective solo tracks, each assigned a title corresponding with a letter in the Greek alphabet, are the work of the late Swede. Certainly, Svensson’s more reserved side did show up occasionally in the trio’s work (give a listen to “Ajar” on the posthumously released Leucocyte album, or the laconic, bluesy shuffle “Where We Used to Live” on 2006’s Tuesday Wonderland). But the whispery, imagistic playing on HOME.S. puts out a different vibe, one that suggests Svensson was making this music for his own satisfaction, unconcerned about whether it was ever heard outside of the basement where it was recorded.

“I think he did it,” says Linton, “because, as with all bands, you work and you work and you work, and even if you really like the people you’re working with, you need to do something else.”

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Does Linton believe that these pieces might someday have been headed for an e.s.t. album? “I don’t think so, because somehow this sounds so complete,” he says, adding, “I just hope that people who hear it will feel that he’s still around, that he’s still making people happy with his music.”

Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin on social media

Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.