Esbjörn Svensson: HOME.S. review – buoyant, capricious, sweepingly melodic

<span>Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

When Esbjörn Svensson made his UK debut at the 1999 Swedish Jazz Extravaganza festival, the then-34-year-old pianist/composer’s jubilant fusions of Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman, Keith Jarrett and his own playful muse showed exactly why his reputation had begun to spread beyond Sweden. Within three years the pianist and his open-minded Esbjörn Svensson Trio were touring the world, finding a new contemporary audience by merging classic jazz, catchy themes, intricate improv, classical music and rock-crescendo drama.

The story ended tragically nine years later when Svensson died in a scuba diving accident. He left behind a powerful EST back catalogue, augmented by the occasional unearthed live recording. HOME.S. is an uncharacteristic solo-piano meditation the artist made at home shortly before his death, only recently discovered by his widow, Eva. The influence of Jarrett’s solo-piano method is audible, but Svensson’s buoyancy, capriciousness of mood and sweeping melodic resources are all his own. He sometimes opens with dreamily wandering chords or treble-melody fragments, but also includes frisky contrapuntal dances and stately baroque sways. The gorgeous Gamma hints at bluesy soul resolutions that only coalesce at the song’s close. Flying double-time freebop erupts out of gracefully interwoven left-right lines, while quiet harmonies turn to clanging soul-jazz chords pushed by rumbling bass-note boogies in the style of early Abdullah Ibrahim. Longtime Svensson fans will be entranced, and newcomers may catch a fascinated glimpse of why this modest maestro’s early demise was such a loss to contemporary music.

Also out this month

UK saxophonist/rapper Soweto Kinch’s White Juju (LSO Live) references the cultural mythologies that colonialism has evolved to make racist exploitation seem like the natural order. With his fine jazz quartet and the London Symphony Orchestra (captured live at the 2021 London jazz festival), Kinch subjects convenient cultural alibis to pastiches of classical fanfares and patriotic struts, and crosscut footage of politicians’ proclamations countered by anguished, defiant rap and searing free-sax firestorms. It’s a humane polemic, and a testament to its creator’s deep grasp of jazz improv, rap poetics and classical-orchestral composition.

UK post-bop virtuosos Alex Hitchcock (sax) and Ant Law (guitar) lead a terrific multinational band, assembled remotely, including bassist Linda May Han Oh and Israeli piano star Shai Maestro, on Same Moon in the Same World (Outside in Music). And the uncompromisingly adventurous Japanese pianist/composer Satoko Fujii celebrates her 100th album release in the illustrious free-jazz company of trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and others with Hyaku: One Hundred Dreams (Libra Records).