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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Esbjörn Svensson Trio

Tuesday Wonderland

Review by John Pierpoint

This is the penultimate studio album from the Swedish jazz/rock trio (not counting the posthumous “301”). The music and track titles suggest a linking theme (maybe one of homelessness or street life). Several tunes take their cue from JS Bach preludes, lending a solemn gravitas to the work.

As with so much later EST, it can sometimes be difficult to work out what instruments are being heard, due to the additional electronic effects on all three. Esbjörn Svensson favours using mechanical manipulation of his piano, often reaching into his grand to damp individual strings. There is also a smattering of distortion and echo. Magnus Öström enjoys using bizarre percussion, and treats his kit with electronic effects. Dan Berglund plucks and bows his bass, but often the bowing on his solos is accompanied by heavy distortion and reverb, like some metal guitar god.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Fading Maid Preludium

A simple Bach-like piano figure works away, only to be suddenly interrupted by a dark, ominous distorted bowed bass and drums. This is punctuated by what sounds like damped staccato guitar chords (probably the bass again). Berglund's bass wails mournfully over the top, rising in pitch as the tune progresses. Svensson's piano blocks in powerful chords, while Öström's drums build in intensity, heavy on the cymbals. The whole thing fades to shimmering electronic effects.

Tuesday Wonderland
A stentorian, low piano tune is overlaid first by a catchy bass melody (so at this stage, the piano is doing bass duties!), which is then taken up by the piano. A repeating arpeggio acts as a pivot, as the music now builds up in one of those ever-increasing cycles that the band do so well. Shimmering electronics wash over the whole thing, adding an air of expectancy. It returns to a mellower version of the original theme – time for some uplifting piano improvisation. The drums rise in intensity to match the piano. Finally, the bass reprises the original riff, before the previous build returns, only this time longer and higher.
The Goldhearted Miner
A prepared piano starts this off, giving a quaint, vintage feel to the tune. Then a more normal grand piano tone takes over to bring a more elegant atmosphere, accompanied by swirling brushwork from Öström. The prepared piano riff returns at intervals, and there's a barely audible, Glenn Gould-like moaning and singing in the background. This mellow mood is maintained throughout the piece.
Brewery of Beggars / Beggar's Blanket
A Gamelan-like chiming (on piano?) is overtaken by an unsettling two-note high-register bass figure (sounding like an old-fashioned “Dee-dah” police siren), rumbling rapid piano arpeggios and bright drums. A distorted, bowed bass screams over the top, while another (untreated) bass plucks at the low notes. We're almost back in comfortable Bach territory here, until an urgent ride cymbal stirs things up again, signalling an extended improvisation. There's a sense of something uncomfortable, with this mood occasionally broken by blocks of triumphant piano chords. It seems to be representing the ebb and flow of a conflict of some kind. Berglund gets to do his Jimmy Page impersonation on distorted bowed bass. The tune ends with clanging notes from the treated piano settling back to. . . well, more Bach!
Dolores in A Shoestand

Like “Elevation of Love” on Seven Days of Falling, this is one of those tunes whose initial notes can send a tingle up the spine, once the enlightened listener knows what's coming. It is unashamedly upbeat and life-affirming. The main theme is played on both piano and bass simultaneously, while the drums are given a swirling electronic treatment to make them sound like background chatter. There's an acoustic bass solo spot. The release as the improvisation moves into a new chord almost brings tears of joy. A quiet interlude suggests that the tune is about to end, but they pick up the beat again. The tunes eventually morphs to a bar-room piano jam, complete with tinkling of glasses and claps, foot-stomping and cries of approval from a small, but appreciative audience. I don't know what Dolores is doing in a shoestand, but it certainly sounds like she's having a wonderful time!

Where We Used To Live
Here is a slow, mellow classic jazz piece, with swirling brushwork. It expands a bit, but generally maintains the initial mood.
Eighthundred Streets by Feet
This one begins with the drums. Delicate piano arpeggios and melody join, with occasional electronic interjections. There's a satisfying chord sequence partway through. Subtle bass harmonies and what could be synthesisers in the background giving an almost imperceptible choral effect (or maybe it's the work of uncredited backing singers). The tune fades out on a looped sound (probably the bowed bass) that becomes more distorted with each repetition, a bit like the central section of Pink Floyd's “Dogs.”
Goldwrap
A busy, rolling piano riff and flanged drums start this off, joined by a driving kick drum. The bass has a vibrato effect in places. There is what sounds like a sample-and-hold synthesiser at times, with wah-pedalled guitar in the background. Of course, it's more likely to be some weird transformation of bass or piano!
Sipping on the Solid Ground
A piano melody plays over a slow drum beat, ghosted by the bass. Svensson's damped left-hand piano then takes the rhythm part, leaving the right hand and bass to play the melody. The tune sticks with the original tempo and groove, as a bed for a piano improvisation.
Fading Maid Postludium
This is a reprise and a reverse of the opening track, fading in on the heavy section, which then settles down back into the introspective piano noodling. A sea of multi-tracked, heavily-treated bass continues for a while, until we are left just as we started – with just the piano, fading like the titular maid.
Uncredited Track
The bonus track (after several minutes of silence) is a subdued affair. It reminds me of early Kraftwerk, sounding like an evocation of a lakeside scene, rendered in electronic effects. There is no real theme, just snatches of piano over the melange of sounds.
 
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