Esbjörn Svensson, the Swedish original who consistently turned crossovers between jazz, pop and classical music into lasting art with EST, would have got around to this orchestral venture himself but for his accidental death in 2008. With its shapely themes, subtle pacing and big climaxes, his popular trio’s music was ideal material, eloquently confirmed here by arranger Hans Ek, the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and four star jazz soloists, including brilliant Finnish pianist Iiro Rantala and Norwegian saxophonist Marius Neset.
ESP marks the beginning of a revitalization for Miles Davis, as his second classic quintet – saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Tony Williams – gels, establishing what would become their signature adventurous hard bop. Miles had been moving toward this direction in the two years preceding the release of ESP and he had recorded with everyone outside of Shorter prior to this record, but his addition galvanizes the group, pushing them toward music that was recognizably bop but as adventurous as jazz's avant-garde. Outwardly, this music doesn't take as many risks as Coltrane or Ornette Coleman's recordings of the mid-'60s, but by borrowing some of the same theories – a de-emphasis of composition in favor of sheer improvisation, elastic definitions of tonality – they created a unique sound that came to define the very sound of modern jazz. Certainly, many musicians have returned to this group for inspiration, but their recordings remain fresh, because they exist at this fine dividing line between standard bop and avant.
Despite the fact that 2008’ Leucocyte, would be the Esbjörn Svensson Trio's final album due to the tragic scuba diving accident that killed Svensson, this was a band that had traversed such wide musical territory they deserved a retrospective treatment simply to sum up what had transpired between the release of 1993’s When Everyone Has Gone and that premature finale. While this 70-minute single disc doesn’t contain any unreleased material, or pre-1999 material (in favor of presenting the trio’s fully developed aesthetic), it is beautifully compiled.
It's a damn shame that Leucocyte is the final studio album by the Esbjörn Svensson Trio. Svensson died in a tragic diving accident in June of 2008, shortly after this set was finished. More than any other recording issued by this excellent band, Leucocyte captures the art of music making at the moment of conception; it was recorded as live-in-the-studio improvisation over two days in an Australian studio. It was completely finished, post-production and all, with a release date before Svensson's death. The words "post-production" mean plenty when it comes to E.S.T.'s music. The trio often recorded and added sonic effects to their structured, composed pieces. It underscored their hip sophistication and accessibility. It made them a hit with both jazz fans and younger audiences who listen to Radiohead, Sigur Rós, and even heavy metal more than jazz.