On the front of this CD is a big red marketing sticker. It says: “new album from former e.s.t. drummer’. While understandable, it’s now unnecessary. Magnus Öström’s career as a solo artist is substantial enough to enable him to move beyond his time in the world-renowned, stadium filling nu-jazz trio led by his childhood friend Esbjörn Svensson.
Parachute, Öström’s third album, demonstrates why in bucket-loads. This is a mature album with eight tracks with an altogether positive mood, all connected by the hypnotic rhythms and characteristic metronomic hi-hat sound of Öström’s drumming. A little more mature in sound than his first two albums - Thread Of Life and Searching For Jupiter - Parachute is so-named to reflect music’s role in Öström’s life after the untimely death of his friend and bandmate.
As he writes in the accompanying press kit: “During the years after Esbjörn’s death I have struggled to find my way back to life … when I have been at my lowest, the music has always been there to save me, like a parachute”. Luca Deist’s cover design featuring the windblown drummer seems to reflect this supportive, uplifting role for music. Parachute is a fitting tribute, then, to music’s redemptive power. It also demonstrates Öström’s capacity to blend genres in an album which will be filed under ‘jazz’, but is too ambitious for just one tag.
On the album is his established studio and touring quartet, each of whom is a top player in the Swedish jazz scene: Daniel Karlsson on keyboards [CD review] Andreas Hourdakis on guitars [CD review] and Thobias Gabrielsson on keyboards and bass. Together they have become a smooth, well-functioning music machine, one that is more than simply backing for Öström. This is very much a team effort to bring to life Öström’s creative ideas, and the results are great.
What will the listener get from this broad musical vision of Öström’s? There is a jazz core to Parachute, albeit very much the modern, ‘noughties-style nu-jazz which e.s.t. exemplified, with Karlsson at times delving into the be-bop stylings on the piano which were very much the forte of Svensson in e.s.t. There is a also a strong jazz-rock vibe on many of the tracks, reflecting Öström’s early musical education under his brother’s tutelage, listening to Billy Cobham and John McLaughlin. Listen further and you’ll find the propulsive dynamism of dance and electronica.
It all works seamlessly, propelled along by the left foot and hand of Öström on kick drum and hi-hat. The first two bars of opener Dog On The Beach is a close cousin of the title track of his Öström’s sophomore album Searching For Jupiter, opening out into a new composition which has the same propulsive intensity of the earlier track Both showcase the hi-hat playing that provides a temporal centre as smooth and reliable as the most expensive of Swiss watch movements. Guitarist Hourdakis in this band plays in a more open and unrestrained style than suggested by his own recent debut release. This track demonstrates the power of his simple riffs, repeated over and over with subtle evolution - sometimes in competition with, sometimes in sync with Karlsson’s keyboard - that provide the signature sonic superstructure for Öström’s music.
Junas carries on in a similar vein, with Karlsson providing an ethereal keyboard accompaniment over his conventional piano sound. Öström’s playing is deceptively simple, but the frequent breaks and developments around the bass drum pattern show this is very much his composition and his hand is firmly on the musical steering wheel. The Green Man And The French Horn puts on the brakes, with a ballad structure and tempered piano providing a pastoral backdrop to Hourdakis’ minimal but rich playing.
Walkabout Bug has a jaunty pace, the simplest of bass riffs suggestive of a stroll around town with the window-shopping colour provided by Karlsson and Hourdakis. Title track Parachute starts off at pace, with the sequenced hand-claps and propulsive bass creating urgency, over which a lush keyboard motif develops over Hourdakis’ guitar, as smooth as the finest Swedish vodka. Mid-way through the tune develops a clearer jazz urge, with Karlsson laying out some lovely improvisational ideas over the firm foundations of Öström’s drumming, where the open hi-hat is the dominant element the ear picks up on. A grand title track for an album with grand ambition.
Swedish trumpeter Mathias Eick guests on sixth track The Shore Of Unsure, to which Hourdakis’ effects-heavy playing provides the musical uncertainty suggested by the title. Eick’s luxuriant solo binds this track together, with Karlsson and Gabrielsson laying back and letting trumpet and drum propel the tune. Final tracks Reedjoyce and All the Remaining Days packs contrasting musical tastes and provide a bold finish to this album which lacks any filler and maintains a strong musical argument right to the last drum beat, notably in Hourdakis’ acoustic sound on the former and Karlsson’s simple melody over brushed drums on the latter.
As a package this album has a lot to admire. Taut, simple but cunningly effective drumming; propulsive bass; tricky and involving keyboards and distinctive guitar work all integrate with Öström’s creative big picture in an album which demands the listener press play again straight away. Each subsequent listen only re-confirms the quality of the compositions and the vitality of the ensemble playing.
Parachute provides listeners with a thrill ride across its eight tracks. Öström’s drumming provides a rhythmic tensile strength that guarantees a safe musical landing, but it is the overall sound that is most thrilling about this album. It both looks back to the pre-history of Öström in e.s.t. but also celebrates his emergence as a composer and player.