Old Fruitmarket, 10th February 2007

It was the presence of Viktoria Tolstoy which made me finally decide to go to this gig rather than the Tam White/SNJO one which was on elsewhere in town at the same time.

Tolstoy has a fine, fine voice, and, once a few early problems of balance had been sorted, the Jacob Karlzon Trio provided excellent backing. The major flaw was some of her material. She avoided the perhaps hackneyed classics of the Great American Songbook in favour of original material by herself, members of her band, and Prince. Unfortunately, it has to be said that some of the songs just weren’t all that good, veering towards middle-of-the-road pop rather than jazz. I’m sure she could make a successful career as a Whitney Houston style pop act – and her leggy Swedish blonde looks will hardly hinder a pop career – but I feel she’s got so much more talent as a jazz singer than she displayed tonight. That’s not to say she was bad, just that I had the feeling she could do so much better.

Among some sections of the jazz community, it’s fashionable to knock EST (as the Esbjörn Svensson Trio style themselves these days) on the grounds that because they are popular they therefore can’t be any good. Dave Brubeck has suffered from the same tendency. So let me say that a). I like the EST records I’ve heard, and b). they were excellent when I heard them at the Arches a couple of years back. Tonight, however, they were predominantly dull.

When they were playing “typical” EST material as a trio, they were still pretty good. One of their strengths is the way the work well together as a unit, with each of them being capable of holding down the basic melody and groove while the others head off and do their own thing. Unfortunately, there was too much heading off and doing their own thing tonight, the principal culprit being bass player Dan Berglund. He’s found some sort of effects pedal which makes arco bass sound like a low-pitched distorted electric guitar, and he proceeded to demonstrate this at tedious length. I appreciate that a band which has been together as long as EST might want to try different stuff to avoid staleness, but this just wasn’t interesting. The “Jazz from Sweden” brochure describes them as an “acoustic piano trio with rock’n’roll attitude”. Unfortunately, if there was any rock’n’roll in this concert, it was turgid 70s prog rock. At the end of their set, though, they came back on and played a superb version of “Round Midnight” as an encore. It’s a tune which is in danger of being done to death, but they managed to inject fresh life into it, mastering the essential trick involved in playing Monk tunes of preserving the essential Monkish character of the piece without sounding like an imitation. If only their whole set had been as good as this, I’d have had no complaints.

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