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e.s.t.: 301

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While on tour in Australia in January 2007, the Esbjörn Svensson Trio spent two days in Sydney’s Studio 301, jamming in order to workshop new material. Prior to his tragic death in a scuba diving accident a little more than a year later, Svensson had edited the resulting nine hours of material down to two albums’ worth of music. The 2008 release Leucocyte was culled from those sessions, and was assumed to have placed a period at the end of e.s.t.’s career. Last year, however, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus ?-ström revisited that material and compiled a second album.

Posthumous releases are typically a dubious proposition, often little more than gathering scraps. But while it necessarily echoes the electro-acoustic experiments of Leucocyte , 301 is not only a worthy representation of the trio’s evolution, but a cohesive statement that feels like a proper album rather than a smattering of outtakes. Svensson’s elegiac piano opens the CD with “Behind the Stars,” a ballad made even more haunting by the pianist’s unselfconscious humming and Berglund’s occasional arco plaints. “Inner City, City Lights” lends weight to the trio’s physical surroundings, with faint whistles and creaks surrounding the slow rhythmic lope and Svensson’s electronically decaying lines.

Lest the album start to feel like a wake, “The Left Lane” picks up the pace with the trio’s trademark lyrical interplay, while “Three Falling Free Part II” marries the acoustic and electric most successfully, building steadily in intensity from a lengthy drum solo to a rock-powered barrage before finally dissolving into digital glitches. Welcome though it is, 301 reinforces the loss of Svensson by pointing toward intriguing avenues now left unexplored.

Originally Published