Following the posthumous release of Leucocyte in 2008, only months after the untimely death of pianist Esbjörn Svensson, it seemed as though that album would represent e.s.t.’s final studio statement. Now, nearly four years later, 301 has emerged. It was recorded during the same sessions, whilst the Swedish trio were touring around Asia and Australia. The disc is named after the 301 Studios in Sydney.
This is no sweeping-up of studio off-cuts. This is one of e.s.t.’s greatest albums, and even arguably their ultimate work, in every sense of the word. It represents a colossal achievement, as they take their final bow. The 2007 material might be extremely varied in tone and approach, partly out of necessity, doubtless governed by the available recordings, but this circumstance works to the album’s advantage. It’s a summation of where the trio had been, and also of where these perpetually evolving players were heading next.
Before his death, Svensson was actually involved in the editing down of the sessions into what might have been a double album. In the end, surviving members Magnus Öström and Dan Berglund elected to delay the release of 301. Regular sound engineer Åke Linton was also a key presence in the recording, editing and mixing process.
A sombre, portentous opener, Behind the Stars, has lone piano, merging into the extended Inner City, City Lights, one of the album’s two staggering epics. Delicately haunting bass enters almost unnoticed, Berglund bowing sparse traces as Öström’s drum brushes follow. It’s a stalking, brooding slow-builder, hovering at length, as Svensson’s piano becomes increasingly flecked with distortion effects, a sinuous bassline unthreading. The drums slink, and a massed choir-like effect develops, adding to the sustained tone of urgency.
The Left Lane operates with a more conventional jazz pianism, all the more striking when it follows on from its scuzzed predecessor. Svensson’s spirited, bluesy virtuosity is buoyed by springily tensed bass and drums. Suddenly, the threesome is venturing into the industrial loading bay, as Houston, the 5th heads towards electro-acoustic abstraction, bathed with sonic distress.
Once more, there’s a cut to pure piano grace with Part I of Three Falling Free. The lengthy Part II is the album’s other sheer classic ripper, amassing a percussive density that approaches an Afro-Latin feel, the bass distortion growing, a driving rhythm set up for Svensson’s epic gestures, propelling towards a gargantuan climax. Not surprisingly, this is followed by the tender ballad of The Childhood Dream, as all facets of e.s.t. are continually revealed.
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Posthumously released albums can be little more than opportunistic outtake-trawling, but not this one. Eighteen months before the Swedish pianist and composer Esbjörn Svensson's accidental death in 2008, his trio recorded nine hours of material in Sydney's 301 Studio some of which was released as the apparently final EST album, Leucocyte. 301 is a selection from the rest. With its extended group jams, expanded electronics and reduction of solos, the set consolidates Leucocyte's shift to a sound-texture feel more like that of Australian improv trio the Necks. It's a must for EST fans if only for new examples of the ways Svensson's fluid, Brad Mehldau-like figures mesh with the sound of Magnus Öström's rumbling drums and Dan Berglund's dramatic bass. But it's also a thoughtfully assembled balance of elements minimalist drones, fiercely metallic fuzz-bass noise explorations, rock thrashings in which Berglund's basslines eerily recall Cream's Jack Bruce and a real enhancement of the EST story. FOUR STARS --The Guardian
Recorded at Studios 301 in Sydney at the same sessions that produced Leucocyte, the first album to be released after pianist Esbjorn Svensson's death in a diving accident in 2008, this might well be the group's best ever record. The opening is staggeringly good: Svensson's contrapuntal solo piano leading into "Inner City, City Lights", a masterpiece. Some surprisingly proper-jazz stuff follows before a bit of electro-squelch precedes "The Childhood Dream", another masterpiece. FIVE STARS --Independent on Sunday
This set was culled from the same epic sessions that yielded their experimental Leucocyte album, released just after pianist Esbjörn Svensson s tragic death in 2008. However, 301 offers a much fuller picture of the band from Jarrett-like acoustic piano trio to post-jazz pioneers. The central piece here is the epic trance-jam Three Falling Free, which builds over an electronic drone to an incendiary climax. But there s tenderness, too; the opening Behind the Stars is solo Svensson at his most lyrical; The Childhood Dream a poignant closer. Much more than mere studio jams, these tunes rank close to the band s best. FOUR STARS --The Times