Friday, August 17, 2007

The Esbjörn Svensson Trio is a Bonafide FIND!

...Whenever I hear of a newer jazz artist covering the tunage of one of the greats from one of my favorite musical eras 1953-ish to the late 60's (the hard bop period through the avant-garde movement; on into the early fusion stuff), I get a little twitch in the corner of my eye because more often than not, the newer take comes off like a copy of a duplicated mimeograph...or the later effort, as ambitious as it may be, is being attempted by musicians who don't have the chops for the task they've set themselves...(I get a similar feeling when that jazz pianist in the house band on Michael Feldman's NPR quiz show, "Whaddaya Know"-- dude always attempts piano runs that he can never resolve...I turn the radio down every time I hear one coming...the quiz show itself is funny sometimes, though but I'm digressing...

....such is not this case when the Esbjörn Svensson (piano), Dan Berglund (double bass) and Magnus Östrom (drums) got together as the Esbjörn Svensson Trio and recorded 1997's "Plays Monk" for EST Records (later to be re-issued on ACT in 2001)...if you read me, then you already know that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Thelonious Monk fan so, when my homebiscuit, Erin turned me on to it I was skeptical...I'd heard about Svensson but never got around to him which I began to regret as the outfit hit the ground running at a crisp, brisk clip with a rendition of "Rhythim-a-Ning" that quickly brought a smile to my face about 20 seconds and the string stuff on " 'Round Midnight" brought a fresher feel to a classic I already knew inside out...and I'm not telling porkie-pies around the campfire, either...

...going deeper into the album's trackage, one finds that " Little Rootie Tootie" has some sweet, swinging drum moments and the best way to describe their lugubrious-yet-cheerful rendition of "I Mean You": brush-lush-tastic (another joint on which the drumming shines as Östrom lays down the lutefisk...on "Evidence" the Trio turns up the heat during a brisk workout that puts the spotlight on Esbjörn's who show's that he can punch his body-weight when he's hunched over a piano...unlike the professional amateur mentioned above, Svensson's got the Scandinavian minerals to pull it off...not to get hyperbolic but it's a real revelation to hear someone else vibe on Thelonious' "tongue-in-cheek-complexity" and nail it-- love the way he drops out of that oh-so-Monk run around 4:14...nothin' but the truth, son...they hook shit up later in a similar fashion on "Criss Cross" as well...I found myself liking their rendition of the Monk staple "Bemsha Swing" just as much as I like John Coltrane and Don Cherry's version of it as well...

 it's the gift that keeps on giving...I've been listening to this LP a great deal since I got hooked up with it last month...and the tune I've been really vibing on is the EST's version of "In Walked Bud" which I'll close out this review with (according to lore, this is literally the tune that Esbjörn's father, a jazz musician, himself had spinning on the turntable as his toddler son learned to walk...probably untrue but I like the circle-of-life feel of the tale )...I don't think the Plays Monk is OOP, so if you see that freaky-ass, cubist cover staring at you from a record bin across the room, calmly adjust that fedora (that you're no doubt wearing), look around the room...then slowly ease over to it and snatch it up ...then do that little "Eureka jig" like Walter Huston did in the flick The Treasure of the Sierra Madre...because, Bogey, you've just found yourself some jazz gold...

(to turn off iVoon to listen to track below, click pause on the clickwheel of the iPod in sidebar)

(If you're down, there's another track available over
on my music blog )

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