by Ian Mann
April 04, 2016
Ostrom has produced another enjoyable album and one that offers a more optimistic world view than its two predecessors. There is some interesting writing that draws upon a wide range of influences.
Magnus Ostrom will probably always be best known as the drummer with the Esbjorn Svensson Trio (routinely known as e.s.t.), arguably ranking right up there with Django Reinhardt and Jan Garbarek as one of the most important and influential European jazz acts of all time.
Ostrom was born in Skultuna, Sweden and was first influenced by the rock music tastes of his older brother, Tommy. Magnus formed his first band with his childhood friend Esbjorn Svensson, the group eventually mutating into the trailblazing e.s.t. with the addition of bassist Dan Berglund in 1992. In the meantime Ostrom studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Stockholm and worked closely with the Swedish jazz vocalist Monica Borrfors.
The trio of Svensson, Ostrom and Berglund recorded their début album “When Everyone Has Gone” in 1993 for the Swedish Dragon label. The group’s early promise led to them moving to Siggi Loch’s Munich based label ACT where they enjoyed a long and fruitful association releasing such classic albums as “From Gagarin’s Point Of View” (1998) and “Strange Place For Snow” (2001).
Each album seemed to build upon the success of its predecessor and the trio also gained an enviable reputation for the excitement and quality of its live performances. This was a group that developed something of a cult following that transcended the usual jazz demographic. In their home country e.s.t. were practically pop stars and their sound and lighting engineers were a vital part of the band’s concert performances. I was lucky enough to witness e.s.t perform live on a number of occasions at venues in Bristol, Cheltenham, Coventry and Birmingham, covering the last of these at Symphony Hall for the Jazzmann back in 2007.
e.s.t. were one of the few European jazz acts to make waves in America and they became something of a global phenomenon, superstars in jazz terms, a fact that was all the more remarkable as the group exhibited constant artistic growth throughout its career and was never afraid to experiment in public. Like Pat Metheny their success was based on hard work and professionalism allied to a high standard of musicianship and a real eye for a good tune and a strong groove. Svensson, the trio’s main composer exhibited a rare melodic gift.
e.s.t.‘s remarkable story came to a tragic end on 14th June 2008 when pianist Svensson was tragically killed in a diving accident off the Swedish coast. His death robbed the world of a musician and composer at the peak of his powers and both the award winning “Live In Hamburg”, released a few months before Svensson’s death, and the posthumous “Leucocyte” saw the trio still continuing to break new musical ground as they delved deeper into the worlds of electronics and improvisation.
It took some time for both Ostrom and Berglund to come to terms with their loss but both eventually retuned to active music making. Berglund re-emerged first with his band Tonbruket in 2010 and has now released four recordings with this group on ACT.
Ostrom’s début as a leader came a year later with the release of “Thread Of Life”, also on ACT. This widely acclaimed album included guest appearances by both Berglund and guitarist Pat Metheny, the latter a long time admirer of e.s.t., on the track “Ballad For E”, dedicated to the memory of Svensson. A second album, “Searching For Jupiter” also appeared on ACT in 2013.
For his third solo outing Ostrom has moved to Diesel Music but has retained most of the personnel that appeared on both of his previous albums. The musicians are all drawn from the vibrant Stockholm music scene and the band features Andreas Hourdakis on guitars, Daniel Karlsson on piano and keyboards and Thobias Gabrielson on both bass and keyboards. I saw a similar line up, including Hourdakis and Gabrielson, perform live at the 2011 London Jazz Festival at the City Arts and Music Project (now Xoyo) on City Road. This was a highly exciting performance in an intimate setting and was essentially a rock gig as Ostrom’s early influences came to the fore.
The music to be heard on “Parachute” also straddles the boundaries between jazz and rock. It could be termed “fusion” with its concentration on electric instruments and its unrepentant prog rock feel. Like me Ostrom grew up listening to that kind of stuff and he cites witnessing a performance by drummer Billy Cobham and guitarist John McLaughlin back in 1978 as a particularly strong formative influence. But Ostrom’s music is very different to 70s US fusion and he brings a strong European sensibility to his music which is influenced by classical sources as well as jazz and rock.
Ostrom describes the reasoning behind the album title thus;
“During the years after Esbjorn’s death I have struggled to find my way back to life. Sometimes life has been OK, but at other times it has been really dark. As for most of us life has its ups and downs, but when I have been at my lowest, when you don’t see any way out, the music has always been there to save me, it has been my “Parachute”. This record is a celebration of music itself and to the energy it carries. It has helped not only me, but also most of the people on this tormented globe that we travel on. As a temporary guest on this planet I hope I will leave it a better place than when I arrived – I hope we all will do. That’s what I’m striving for.”
I wonder if he also remembers that it was the title of a 1970s Pretty Things album.
Ostrom’s positive sentiments are borne out by the music, “Parachute” certainly has a more relaxed and celebratory feel than the darkly cathartic “Thread Of Life”. Something of this new positivism is reflected by the good natured opener “Dog On The Beach” where Karlsson’s insistent piano motif/hook sometimes recalls e.s.t. Meanwhile Hourdakis’ melodic guitar work sounds a little like Metheny as Ostrom’s driving, rock influenced drumming powers the tune along.
There’s even more of Metheny’s methodology in the epic sweep of the near ten minute “Junas” with its circling guitar phrases, layered keyboards and Ostrom’s own wordless vocals. The use of repeated phrases and motifs and the deployment of ever evolving rhythmic patterns also suggests the influence of Steve Reich, albeit very much in a jazz/rock style. Hourdakis impresses again with his incisive but highly melodic playing and Ostrom’s dynamic drumming in the latter half of the tune is something of a tour de force.
All the pieces on the album are Ostrom’s and after the fireworks of the two opening tracks he reveals a gentler side of his musical personality with the impressionistic and lyrical ballad “The Green Man And The French Horn”. Here Karlsson concentrates on acoustic piano while the leader swaps his sticks for brushes. Hourdakis also reveals a more reflective sound as his guitar dovetails delightfully with Karlsson’s piano.
“Walkabout Bug” is another composition that reflects Ostrom’s more optimistic world view, a
lilting, good natured highly melodic tune that features some tasteful slide guitar from Hourdakis. On the downside there’s a lack of genuine harmonic and rhythmic development and ultimately the piece outstays its welcome and is a little disappointing overall.
The lively title track represents a welcome injection of pace and restores a welcome degree of urgency with its shifts of gear and bustling group interplay. There’s also a terrific acoustic piano solo from Karlsson in the middle of the tune.
It was Ostrom who was responsible for many of e.s.t’s idiosyncratic tune titles and “The Shore Of Unsure” continues something of that tradition. For this piece the core group is joined by guest trumpeter Mathias Eick from neighbouring Norway. The piece is propelled by the kind of skittering drum groove that Ostrom used to deploy with e.s.t. and there’s again something of a Reich influence about the layered guitar and keyboard motifs. Eick sketches a solo of fragile beauty above the insistent rhythms, seemingly floating above the ferment bubbling below.
“Reedjoyce” is upbeat and energetic, a kind of rock instrumental with its jabbing slide guitar phrases and muscular rhythms. Hourdakis makes a particularly powerful contribution here but there are also strong performances from both Karlsson and Ostrom.
The album concludes on a more lyrical note with the gently unfolding “All The Remaining Days” which sees Ostrom moving to brushes again as Hourdakis and Karlsson combine effectively as well as delivering lyrical and unhurried solos on guitar and piano respectively. A word too for the hitherto unsung Gabrielson whose bass playing forms the backbone of the piece.
Ostrom has produced another enjoyable album and one that offers a more optimistic world view than its two predecessors. There is much to enjoy here with some interesting writing that draws upon a wide range of influences. As with Pat Metheny, an acknowledged influence, the music occasionally threatens to slip into blandness but the guitarist’s legion of fans are likely to enjoy this record, as are the many listeners who will have stuck with Ostrom since the e.s.t. days. The standard of musicianship is excellent throughout with Hourdakis, in particular, catching the ear.
This is also a highly exciting live band as I can personally attest and UK audiences will get the opportunity to catch up with Ostrom and his group when they play in London at Ronnie Scott’s on Tuesday April 26th 2016 (see http://www.ronniescotts.co.uk for details).
Ostrom will then return to the UK on July 17th to play at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival. Full tour dates at http://www.magnusostrom.com