Whenever any successful musical group loses its figurehead - as was the case with the Esbjörn Svensson Trio, E.S.T. (of which Rymden bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Öström were two thirds) after the 2008 death of the eponymous pianist - there is always a question mark over what the surviving members should do.
Carry on? Well, that didn’t work for an Ozzy-less Black Sabbath, or a Dury-less Blockheads, playing the same back catalogue and remembering the better times. Or just break up altogether, like The Police, and never reform. Berglund and Öström chose what I think is the more sensible path. With both having successful solo careers in the intervening decade (Öström’s arguably with better results), they have gone back to the trio format and, rather than just re-hash the past, sought to cherish the memory and legacy of Svensson, but use it as a starting point for something new. The new corner of the triangle in this case is Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft.
The cover of the album shows a spaceship on an odyssey into a colourful space, suggesting something new, exciting. The music backs up the image on the whole. Put to the back of your mind this is an E.S.T. re-tread. It’s not. Wesseltoft’s a little more flamboyant on the 88 keys, though with a background on the ACT and ECM labels, it’s flamboyance with an avant-garde sensibility for decoration.
In E.S.T. many of their hit tracks, all instrumental of course, had fantastically out-there, convoluted names, and that tradition continues on Reflections & Odysseys, with a few titles such as The Lugubrious Youth of Lucky Luke and The Celestial Dog and the Funeral Ship.
Befitting a space odyssey, first track Reflections opens with galaxy-wide celestial moans on Berglund’s bass and the most languid of taps on the bass end of the keyboard. Something’s afoot, and a trippy little motif introduces The Odyssey, a propulsive tune. We have a successful lift-off. On this first tune - and indeed, all the others - what becomes clear is just how important Öström’s precision drumming is, particularly his cymbal work, in creating such effortless movement over which beautiful colours drift from the other two. Fourth track Pitter Patter is a case in point, though something sonically different, with hints of Chick Corea on Wesseltoft’s Rhodes piano on this Berglund composition. This is probably the most foot-tappingly joyous track on the album.
Listen to Pitter Patter here:
The Lugubrious Youth of Lucky Luke is, as the name would suggest, slow-paced, mournful and sad, the simple toms pattern from Öström tolling like a funeral bell; but nevertheless, a beautiful tune, with some thoughtful, held-back playing from Wesseltoft and Berglund throughout. The Celestial Dog and the Funeral Ship starts with military snare-like drumming and a questioning chord sequence on the piano, unspectacular but a little eerie. The tune develops in a series of movements and is, perhaps, the most E.S.T.-like track on this album.
Listen to The Celestial Dog here:
Wesseltoft writes in the liner notes: “We’re the same age, have similar backgrounds, all come from small towns, share the same musical ideas, and so it’s like we’ve really known each other for many, many years. We have a great time together.” Put this album on, and you can get a sense of that camaraderie.
A super new entry into an already packed orbit of piano trios circling the earth, Rymden has the potential to be one of the brightest stars in the sky, evoking memories of a past musical relationship and celebrating the start of a new one. Joyous.