Magnus Öström interview

Seize the day. A never heard before concert recording by the Esbjörn Svensson Trio made in their homeland of Sweden was released for the first time this autumn. One of the tracks on the double album Live in Gothenburg which was recorded on 10 …

Published: 8 Nov 2019. Updated: 2 months.

Seize the day.

A never heard before concert recording by the Esbjörn Svensson Trio made in their homeland of Sweden was released for the first time this autumn. One of the tracks on the double album Live in Gothenburg which was recorded on 10 October 2001 called ‘Bowling’ has never been issued before on a recording. ‘Bowling’ features a superb drum solo from Magnus Öström who spoke to marlbank on the phone recently and who at the time of speaking was actually back in Gothenburg which is some five or six hours’ travelling time away from Västerås where the bandleader and composer was born and grew up in. Öström is currently in the Swedish city recording with Lars Danielsson, Grégory Privat and John Parricelli whose Liberetto III band play the EFG London Jazz Festival this month. Issuing label ACT describe Live in Gothenburg, which was released on 25 October, aptly as: “A concert for the ages’’.

Esbjörn Svensson died in 2008 and was a Magnus Öström childhood friend. In this 2001 concert, e.s.t. played tunes from the albums From Gagarin’s Point of View and Good Morning Susie Soho ahead of going into the studio a few months later to record almost the entirety of the tracks that were issued the following year as Strange Place For Snow. Magnus begins when asked by talking about playing in Gothenburg on prior occasions before with e.s.t. He says that they played in the city’s jazz club. ‘‘Nefertiti is there. It is like the Ronnie Scott’s of Gothenburg, or like Fasching in Stockholm.’’ As for the Nefertiti capacity ‘‘it has not more than 200 people,’’ he says.

The symphony hall, however, where Live in Gothenburg was captured is a bigger beast. The Gothenburg Concert Hall is home to the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra and he says it ‘‘rarely puts on jazz: the size there is about 1,000 people.’’

Listening to Live in Gothenburg it is hard to glean how many people were there but it sounds like quite a lot that night. There is a kind of a waterfall of applause rather than a heavy trickle as you get when club recordings are the context. The sound is crammed with observers when they make their presence felt. That autumn day Magnus tells me “we did the sound check as usual in the afternoon over a couple of hours.’’ In those days he says they did not use electronics much apart from in the case of bassist Dan Berglund ‘‘so it was straight forward’’. Their engineer Åke Linton was on hand as he had been since ‘‘really early,’’ Magnus says, ‘‘from around 1994-95.’’ Magnus travelled to Gothenburg with cymbals and ‘‘maybe a snare’’ using the kit provided by the promoter. Nowadays, for instance in his own bands or with Rymden, the new trio who via Jazzland put out the superb Reflections and Odysseys this year and which has Berglund and Bugge Wesseltoft on it, he keeps the same modus operandi but adds some more pedals. Not long after Gothenburg, just a matter of a few months, e.s.t went into the studio to record Strange Place For Snow which is one of the band’s very many classic achievements. This new live album, spoiler alert, is up there and to me is primus inter pares with the brilliant later Live in Hamburg. Magnus cannot recall if they knew at the time of the concert whether they had decided to go into the studio. “I’m not sure. Esbjörn was writing all the time.’’

All the tunes on Live in Gothenburg are jointly attributed to e.s.t as always was their way. The tunes are all Esbjörn’s, Magnus says, although the music is arranged by all three with contributions added by him and Dan. Magnus came up with the titles of the tunes in terms of naming. His best and most personal titles probably arrived later on the 2006 album Tuesday Wonderland. The trio were always a properly democratic band. ‘‘The grooves come from me!’’ he adds.

‘The Second Page’, which is all gospelly and soulful, was issued as a single on 4 October. Magnus explains that the naming is an oblique reference and homage to Bob Dylan in regards to the Keith Jarrett treatment of his Bobness’ ‘My Back Pages’ that Jarrett put out as opening track on the 1969 released Vortex label live album Somewhere Before. (Note, too, on Live in Gothenburg in the naming an eight-minute tune called ‘Somewhere Else Before’ because yes we are deep in Jarrettonia – true on more than one level given Svensson’s superb chops and the aura like our Keith that he created.)

Changing tack to Sweden a bit, Magnus asked about Fredrik Norén (1941-2016), the drummer, describes his fellow player as ‘‘kind of the Art Blakey of Sweden’’ and who Esbjörn played with as a young man. Magnus studied an album of Norén’s when he was at school. Later Magnus worked with a singer called Monica Borrfors. He is steeped in the Great American Songbook through this early life. Norén he agrees belonged to an older generation although all the young cats of his generation played with him, he intimates.

The drummers Magnus was into when asked about his heroes he says included such surprising figures as Mick Tucker of glam rockers (The) Sweet and on the jazz side Billy Cobham. Magnus says that he went in a ‘‘milestone’’ moment along with his older brother to a concert of John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham’s when Magnus himself was 12 years old. Now 54, he mentions also liking Roy Haynes, Tony Williams, and Bill Bruford and was thrown and surprised to bump into the Yes legend during a Pizza Express gig of e.s.t’s: ‘‘In the men’s room’’ of all places because unbeknownst to him Bruford was in the house. We chat then briefly about what I think is a very special trio album New Frontier from Steve Howe which I mention… and for which Bruford has co-written three tunes.

Turning back to Gothenburg and to ‘Bowling’ there is the ecstasy shall we call it, or ‘grunting’ non-drum sound in other words, reactions, passion if you prefer, that adds to the superb drum solo, I check in case this derives from audience noise, some enthusiastic fan invading the stage moved by it all and possibly responsible! But no this was Magnus and it certainly adds to the impact of the track and above all it seems and is real.

Since Esbjörn’s death Magnus has worked on a number of projects including with his own prog-jazz led outfit. The pick of these albums was Searching For Jupiter that followed on from Öström’s 2011 debut Thread of Life that featured Pat Metheny. Guitarist Andreas Hourdakis, pianist Daniel Karlsson, who tours this autumn with his own trio, and bassist Thobias Gabrielson all featured on Jupiter alongside Öström who clearly built on his reputation as a player who knows how to join the dots between the thrillingly uncompromising jazz-rock of Tony Williams and the demanding dance floor grooves of drum ’n’ bass.

Magnus tells me that with his own band he does not set out to be ‘‘prog’’ or anything. It is instead about displaying what he refers to as ‘‘your own vision, the sum of all your inputs.’’ As for composing he writes the patterns and rhythms first and the melodies come later. He does not, he says, intend them to be in odd metre. ‘‘But they come out like that sometimes ‘‘oh shit 7/8, 13’’. It is natural, just how I hear things.’’

His electronics now rely around 2 chains of pedals one ‘‘an old Lexicon JamMan’’ a sampler which was an early live looping tool. He adopts a DOD filter for electronic and harmonic effects, also making use of a Digitech Whammy.‘‘I love to bend notes, those floating sounds,’’ he says, and in his own projects he uses three mics and can use the technology to enable him to sing. He says that in Rymden, Dan does not use Ableton software and neither does he although Bugge is trying to convince him to do just this. Magnus says that he is old school and does not want to use a computer on stage.

Moving towards the end of the conversation he agrees that Rymden have a parallel life to EST and explains that Bugge is a different kind of player and the fans who come to hear Rymden are a mix of EST and Bugge fans. At the moment there are no live plans for e.s.t Symphony concerts but he hopes there will be more in the future. The project takes he says a long time to plan ahead for, especially in the booking of an orchestra. A carpe diem time.

Magnus Öström (right) with Esbjörn Svensson Trio in Paris 2007. Photo: Wikipedia

Interview: Stephen Graham

Tags: Interviews

2019 Highlight: track of the day Free My Skin by Steam Down

Hear Steam Down on Later with Jools Holland tonight on BBC2 from 11pm. A cracking slice of Afrobeat awaits.

Published: 8 Nov 2019. Updated: 5 months.

Next post

Hear Steam Down on Later with Jools Holland tonight on BBC2 from 11pm. A cracking slice of Afrobeat awaits.