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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Esbjörn Svensson - Home.S. (ACT Music, 2022)

By Kenneth Blanchard

There are somethings that that brilliant artists should never be allowed to do. Going anywhere near an aircraft is one of them. Scuba diving is another. Between the formation of trio, e.s.t., in 1993 and his death in 2008, Swedish pianist Esbjörn Svensson produced a marvelous body of music. Much of it was recorded posthumously, including several live albums. Apart from a few cuts on a collaboration album (Solo Flights, with Bobo Stenson, Steve Dobrogosz, Anders Widmark), I know of no solo recordings.

Until now. His widow, Eva recently discovered a set of solo pieces composed by Svensson and recorded at his home. Each of the nine tracks is designated by Greek letters going in order from Alpha to Iota. They range in length from about two to seven minutes. I listened to the album with no more information than that.

“Alpha” begins much like the recordings on Solo Flights: gentle and dreamy. It is difficult to imagine a more intimate dialogue that that between two hands in a solo piano work. You get a rich helping of that here. It quickly builds speed, firmness, and clarity, while intensifying the romantic flavor. “Beta” mostly preserves the soft, wistful touch.

“Gamma” is the most striking piece. I get the distinct impression by this point that the beginning of each number is like one or more sketches, before the real painting begins. The full color this time is decidedly blue. It is a slow walk down an empty street, hands in your pockets, round about midnight. The notes are vivid and bright, nonetheless.

“Delta” chases the quarry with a furious and virtuoso speed. It is more abstract than most of the cuts. “Epsilon” shifts back toward romance at the beginning, with an ambiance more reminiscent of the e.s.t. albums. “Zeta” strikes me as the least realized, but it is still fascinating to see this master tightly confining himself in order to explore a simple theme.

“Eta”, the longest track, is a shift from two compositions. The first is all storm and percussive notes, while the second winds out of that into what is more mysterious but just as beautiful.

I’ll leave the remaining tracks for your consideration. Home.S is a marvelous addition to the work of this wonderful artist. Just in case you don’t know the trio albums, here are some suggestions. From Gagarin’s Point of View is said to be his breakthrough album. If you like that one, Winter in Venice will curl your toes. I think my favorite, though, is The Esbjörn Svensson Trio Plays Monk. The first cut, “I mean you,” is the kind of thing you want to hear early in the morning, in a coffee shop a few minutes walk from The Art Institute of Chicago. If they play Home.S instead, that will do just fine.