E.S.T. just released their new CD, Tuesday Wonderland.
According to drummer (CD title author) Magnus Öström's
words: "Tuesdays do not really have anything special
about them in the thinking of most people, but if you start
appreciating the small things in life you might see Tuesdays
in a different light (...). What we do –music–
might not mean a lot to many people as well, but if you let
yourself fall into it, you might go on a journey and discover
your own Wonderland in it - a trip that might change your
life." Arturo Mora interviewed pianist Esbjörn Svensson
exclusively for Tomajazz. Of course, the conversation was
held on a Tuesday.
ARTURO MORA: First of all:
what can you tell us about the new record, Tuesday Wonderland?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Actually
there’s nothing to be told more than to hear the music,
which is, of course, a very boring answer, but that’s
why we’re making music, it’s because we’re
not poets or anything like that, we don’t need to use
a lot of words. We tell everything that needs to be told with
It’s like: we are authors and we write
a book, and the book is about a specific story, and each tune
is a different chapter. But if you listen to it together you
can hear that it’s a whole thing, that there’s
one line to the whole record, like it is in the books.
ARTURO MORA: The previous CD,
Viaticum, sounded a bit dark compared to all your
other records, but under my point of view Tuesday Wonderland
sounds even darker, and the use of distortioned bass
sounds quite heavy. Were you looking for that kind of sound,
or did it come out naturally?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Everything
you hear on the album has come in a very natural way. We’re
not really talking about music, like: we’re gonna try
to go for a darker album, a more heavier album, or more distortioned,
or more heavy metal, or so. It seems that what’s more
or less happening probably has to do with the music that I
composed, and also has a lot to do with the trio, about how
we are playing, and how we’re approaching the music
that we’re trying to play.
ARTURO MORA: So we could say
that the music reflects your current personal state as musicians.
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Definitely
it does, but specially in E.S.T. It might be something completely
different in another context, if we would play with other
musicians. But of course we’re working very hard with
E.S.T. and it’s definitely reflecting our personalities,
that’s for sure.
Arturo Mora: Another one of the things I’ve
observed in the record is that, maybe, the orchestral concept
is higher than in previous records, like there’s more
melody and more arrangement and less space for improvisation.
Was it a move you made deliberately or did it come out naturally
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: I’m
not sure if I agree. There might be lots of parts in the music
that may sound composed more than improvised, but it can also
be the way you said, I’m not sure really, I mean, if
there is a higher percentage of composed material than improvised.
It might be that I started to compose the album from a very
classical point of view. I was trying to do some kind of Das
Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier, by Johann
Sebastian Bach) for the trio, which didn’t really
succeed. I was composing lots of suites, lots of preludes,
and we were trying to play lots of it, but afterwards we realized:
“this is not really working for E.S.T.”. So then
I was going back and started to go through the material again
and try to find out which of the tunes we could play, which
of the tunes needed to be recomposed, or which of the tunes
we couldn’t use at all.
But I realized that we had some material that
could be recomposed or rearranged and we got working on that
material. Maybe this album sounds a way that’s not my
original idea of trying to do this Wohltemperierte Klavier
© Carmen Llusà
ARTURO MORA: When you compose,
do you think in how the tunes will sound live, or do you just
take full advantage of the possibilities in the studio, and
live playing will be another problem?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: I think when
I compose I’m trying to think about how we can play
things and it’s not really a big difference for us.
If it works in the studio it works live, if it works live
it works in the studio. It may sound that we use a lot of
overdubs, but it’s not a big deal actually, because
lots of the things are recorded just in one take, and we actually
do sounds that may sound overdubbed, but they’re not.
The sound is recorded as we play it.
But there are of course some overdubs as well,
but only like... when you're making food you use spices in
order to make food taste better and this is how we try to
ARTURO MORA: Regarding that
studio process, which is the importance of your sound engineer
Ake Linton in the development of the band?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Well, Ake
Linton is a very, very important man in this process. He is
the fourth member of the trio, he’s been travelling
with us for five or maybe six years now and we have been recording
with him before, but this is for a very long time the first
album we’re really making together with him, and that
was such a joy to work with him. We went down to Gothenburg
and used his studio, and we were recording for four days,
went into the studio, turned our mobile phones off, we were
just concentrating, and worked very hard for these four days,
and recorded the whole album.
ARTURO MORA: There is a song
in the record, “Eighthundred Streets by Feet”,
which is in 5/4 time. Did you make it as an exercise of 5/4
composing, or did you just pick the melody and it developed
in that meter?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: That composition
actually came from the riff that is played by the left hand
on the piano (he sings the riff). Something that I started
to play and I kind of liked it and then I worked out the rest,
I worked out the melody, the bridge and so on. I never thought
about composing in 5/4 before, it was something that it just
happened, this riff was in 5/4, therefore I decided to try
to keep it that way, and see what I could do with it.
ARTURO MORA: There’s
another song, “Dolores in a Shoestand” that, to
me, sounds with some reminiscence of Pat Metheny, as well
as some old songs like “Spam-Boo-Limbo”, “Elevation
of Love” or the Mohammed suite, for example. Everybody
knows you have a great relationship with Pat Metheny. Is he
a real musical influence for E.S.T.?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Oh, absolutely.
Pat Metheny is definitely one of our heroes. All of us in
the trio, we’ve grown up with his music, and we were
listening a lot to his earlier set up of Pat Metheny Group,
and I remember when he came to Stockholm to play with Pat
Metheny Group, I think I was 19 years old the first time I
heard the band. It was the first time I saw a real jazz concert
with great lightning, great sound, more like, you know, a
rock concert, but still very improvised and jazz music. I
think that whole thing inspired me a lot actually, and sometimes
I think what we’re doing with the trio is not too far
away from what they still are doing.
ARTURO MORA: To me there was
a very important moment in the recording career of E.S.T.,
in 1999, when you came up with the tune “Dodge the Dodo”
(From Gagarin’s Point of View, ACT 1999), that
was stylistically different from the previous recorded material,
with that E pedal and that rockish sound. In some way, did
that tune mark the path of what was to follow?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Might have,
might have. I don’t know really. Of course, when we
start to play live that tune is kind of a hit tune, and people
want to hear it, but at the same time I’m consciously
trying to compose music that’s natural, and I never
try to compose another “Dodge the Dodo”. We’re
just trying to compose and we’re trying to play the
music in a natural way, but maybe still, as you said, “Dodge
the Dodo” and the tune “From Gagarin’s Point
of View” on that album were two strong tunes that actually
maybe gave some more identity to E.S.T.
ARTURO MORA: Let’s talk
about succeeding in the U.S.A., which was , let’s say,
your pending subject. How about your recent American tour?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: It was fine,
we played in June public shows, clubs, festivals in Philadelphia,
Rochester, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle – in a couple
of different places –, we also went up to Canada, and
I think it was a big success, it was a lot of fun and, in
general, at the start when we started to play the States it
was so hard to have people coming to the concerts, because
we were totally unknown and, you know, sometimes we went to
play for a very few people, but it seems like those days are
hopefully over and we have a big audience coming to see us,
more or less, everywhere we’re going there, which is
fantastic, to be European and go over to the States and play
ARTURO MORA: Yeah, it should
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: It is, it’s fantastic.
ARTURO MORA: Do you think that,
in some way, you’re the image of European jazz, the
new European jazz Messiahs, that E.S.T. is responsible for
showing what European musicians can do with jazz?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: I don’t
know, I mean... I know that some journalist tried to use us
a little bit as typical European musicians, and sometimes
against the American jazz. I don’t know, I’m not
really involved in that discussion, I love the American jazz,
I love some European jazz as well, and I don’t see a
war between America and Europe in the question of where jazz
is better, or so.
ARTURO MORA: Do you think it’s
more a matter of labels, more than just a real difference?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Yeah, today
we’re not so isolated in Europe, so we’re playing
music for ourselves and in America they play for themselves.
You know, when I grew up I was listening to all jazz music
from America and, of course, that music inspired me a lot,
so I heard Charlie Parker, Monk, Basie, Chick Corea, Herbie
Hancock. I’m very thankful to all of these guys for
hearing their music when I grew up and it was because of them
that I wanted to play jazz. European jazz is much harder for
me to hear. It’s so much easy to hear American musicians
than European musicians from other countries, and here in
Sweden I’m not sure it was this way. It still might
be that way, but I think E.S.T. and those other guys like
Nils Petter Molvaer, Bugge Weseltoft, maybe Jorge Rossy from
Spain and, you know, many great European musicians. I think
before, when people were arranging festivals in Europe, they
had to depend on American players, but I think that kind of
changed a little bit now, and those promoters that are doing
festivals in Europe know that there’s really interesting
music coming from Europe, some music that actually attract
a big audience in Europe.
ARTURO MORA: Apart from these
names you said, Nils Petter Molvaer, Bugge Weseltoft, which
other European jazz musicians would you recommend?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Definitely
Jorge Rossy, from Spain. He’s one of my favorite drummers.
There are some other names, some really nice guys in London.
What’s his name, this piano/keyboard player, composer?
You know, people ask me these things, and I’m so bad
at names. (laughs) Let me think a little bit, if
Do you know this very famous piano player/composer
from London? He’s very crazy. He did a total weird arrangement
on “New York, New York” for big band. Let me see
if I can find... Well, maybe coming back before we stop.
You were asking me about musicians: to be honest
I’m not that updated, I’m not listening to music
very much in general, while we’re touring I try to go
and listen to different things that people are playing before
or after us, but I don’t buy lots of records, probably
because I’m working so much with my own thing...
ARTURO MORA: You don’t
have time enough to listen to more stuff.
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Not really,
also when we’re touring I prefer much more to listen
to classical music. I wouldn’t mind listening to jazz
as well, sometimes I do, but sometimes I’m digging into
old stuff, like old Bill Evans, or Herbie or Oscar Peterson,
some really more traditional jazz. For some reason, I don’t
know why it’s like that, but in general I like traditional
jazz. I don’t know why, but there’s a while ago
since I don’t hear something that really impresses me
that is supposed to be called more than jazz (laughs).
ARTURO MORA: Regarding E.S.T.,
you’re a very collaborative band. What would happen
if any of the three current members were not available?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: We always
expect to do everything that we do with all three of us, and
also including Ake, all four of us. But let’s say something
would happen in a very short notice, that somebody got sick,
or couldn’t make it. I would think that we’d probably
play duo. If, let’s say we had a show and Dan couldn’t
make it, then I think Magnus and I would probably play duo,
if Magnus couldn’t make it then Dan and I would play
duo, I don’t think we’d be bringing a substitute.
That would, of course, depend on how much it was, if it was
a whole tour or just one show or... But in general I think
we’re very hard to exchange any member in E.S.T.
Actually it happened a couple of years ago,
for some reason Dan couldn’t play the second set, and
then Magnus and I played the second set in duo, with very
short notice, we didn’t know what to do at all, but
we more or less improvised, we played some standard tune,
so it became a total different thing, but still very much
E.S.T., and that was exciting.
© Carmen Llusà
ARTURO MORA: What are you studying
now as a musician?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: I am constantly
trying to play some classical music and, just today, I was
playing Beethoven, a few sonatas that I’m working on,
just because I love the music, but also I’m very much
into Johann Sebastian Bach, playing Chopin, sometimes I play
some Mozart and... jazz players, I do very often listen to
Brad Mehldau, I like his playing very much, and I also listen
to Keith Jarrett at the moment, it was a while ago now, because
I’ve been listening to Keith a lot before, but I have
been listening to his new album, Live at Carnegie Hall,
where he’s playing some old tunes, and it’s very
nice to hear what he’s doing.
ARTURO MORA: I agree. Do you
have any chance to come soon to Spain to play live?
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: I would love
to, it’s always great to play Spain, but as far as I
know, there won’t be anything happening maybe until
spring, I don’t think we’ll be able to do anything
before. You should never say never, but the schedule looks
quite tough at the moment, lots of shows in Germany, France
and Switzerland, and we’ve already been playing Sweden.
But we’ll see, I would love to come down, playing in
Spain is always great.
ARTURO MORA: I hope you come
back soon. My last question: Which are the next steps for
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: It’s
really hard to know, I’m trying to take each day by
day, and now we are trying to tour as much as possible with
the new album, with the new music, and trying to develop the
music live on stage. As I said we’re gonna play France
in October, we’re gonna do a lot of Germany, London,
Switzerland in November, we have a few shows in Italy, and
then we have Asia in January, and just continuing the spring
in the summer, and that’s more or less the future plan.
Then, of course, I’m already now starting
to think a little bit about where we could go next, what we
should do, but that’s not really anything I like to
talk about now, because I have so many different ideas running
around in my head at the moment (laughs). I’ll
better try to sort it out first before I start to talk about
ARTURO MORA: OK, it’s
enough for me, thank you very very much for your time...
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: I was just trying to
remember the name of that piano player...
ARTURO MORA: (laughs)
The one from London...
ESBJÖRN SVENSSON: Hold on a
second! I may have an album here. (Esbjorn looks for the
album. He returns 26 seconds later). Sorry, I couldn’t
find anything (laughs). My brain is totally empty...
(pianist and interviewer try to find out the name of the
piano player for a few seconds. At last Esbjorn remembers).
Yeah, Django Bates! Good! I did it!.