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JAZZ REVIEW

Heavily contemporary E.S.T. shows crossover intentions

September 15, 2004|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The group E.S.T. arrived at Catalina Bar and Grill on Monday on the crest of a wave of international critical praise. The Swedish trio -- pianist Esbjorn Svensson, bassist Dan Berglund and drummer Magnus Ostrom -- also arrived at the weary end of a long flight from a performance in South Korea.

The understandable fatigue level probably had something to do with the low voltage passages that afflicted much of their set. Even more problematic, however, was the similarly de-energizing effect of music that relied, more often than not, upon repetitious ostinato passages.

E.S.T. (the name simply refers to the Esbjorn Svensson Trio and has nothing to do with Werner Erhard's est movement) employs repetition as one element in its quest to offer a vanguard blending of mainstream jazz and contemporary groove music. But in this performance, the contemporary aspects took precedence, further emphasized by Berglund's use of electronic enhancement to produce long, bass guitar-like lines and Svensson's occasional insertion of cheesy sounding synthesizer feedback sounds.

All of which made for an enigmatic performance, since there were fleeting moments during Svensson's piano solos in which his improvisational inventiveness and his virtuosic technique suggested the presence of a potentially significant jazz artist. It would be intriguing to hear how his talent would measure up against a program of straight-ahead jazz pieces.

But that was not to be the case Monday, when the music -- including oddly titled originals such as "When God Created the Coffee Break" and "Seven Days of Falling" -- clearly had a different goal. Using trance-like repetitions with interspersed solos and sudden bursts of collectivity, E.S.T. seemed less concerned with improvisational adventures than they were with identifying themselves as a contemporary crossover ensemble. Nothing wrong with questing for popularity, of course, but the program's few moments of genuinely intriguing playing made it clear that they can do much more.

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