I remember when I first discovered E.S.T., I was trying to familiarize myself a bit more with jazz and was having trouble finding an avenue to really start exploring the genre. Chick Corea would scare me off most of the times, as would John Coltrane, not to mention Pat Metheny. E.S.T. really hit the mark for me back then, with their smooth and convoluted songs, often exploding into determined, hard-edged rhythms more akin to rock than what I’d heard of jazz up until that point. “Viaticum”, “Seven Days of Falling”, these were albums which stuck with me and are still part of my regular playlist. After hearing “Tuesday Wonderland” I got a little put off. I didn’t like that album, it seemed to lack some of the drama of their previous releases. And then, I heard Esbjörn Svensson died, so I thought, amongst other things, “what a shame that Tuesday Wonderland would be their last album…”. Inexcusable ignorance indeed, as I had completely missed Leucocyte.
And so I went on for about three years, often missing E.S.T. and wishing they had managed to release just one more record, when a dear friend of mine made me a CD with some jazzy suggestions and had included the album Leucocyte on it. By E.S.T.! I couldn’t believe it. I devoured it, right then and there, and it didn’t leave my playlist, on repeat, for days and days. I even started a running regimen while listening to it, even though I immediately realized it has nothing to do with running and it’s much more likely to impede success than encourage it. In any case, for me, Leucocyte was like an uncovered treasure, an almost-forgotten wish come true, so I admit I might be biased, but I do believe it’s the best album E.S.T. ever released. And, in a bitter-sweet way, I’m thankful it’s got to be the last ever (unless it really isn’t, now wouldn’t that be embarrassing) precisely because it’s so good.
Leucocyte is the result of a two-day long jam session between the band members in an Australian studio. Their music, while always remaining jazz, keeping its improvisational freedom, is characterized by a hefty layer of studio post-production, creating effects, ambient noises, sonic moods which are reminiscent of electronic music sometimes, rock and even metal at other times, avant-garde “rock-in-opposition” approaches and so on. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the influences E.S.T. integrate into their music are not only there to be found on a compositional level, but also on a structural one. And yet, in spite of knowing about this laborious process of refinement which the raw recordings underwent, Leucocyte remains uncanny to my ears. I can scarcely believe the coherence and clarity of the musical vectors in every song, the sweeping, vast size of them, both length-wise and from a harmonic perspective, all of it the result of a jam-session, as if creating this kind of music – complex, tense, successively lyrical and menacing – is the most natural thing in the world.
Truth be told, as a whole, the albums is a pretty hard to digest affair, it seems to be on the very brink of something, without quite jumping in. There are echoes of the softer, more subdued, melodic jazz E.S.T. had used to make on previous albums, bu these echoes simply pale in comparison to the kind of territory they dare venture in their other songs, especially the four-song suite at the end of the record: Ab Initio, Ab Interim, Ab Mortem, Ab Infinitum. I really wished I could find all of these tracks on YouTube or, you know, any sort of streaming video service, but I seem to be out of luck today. On the other hand, it might prove to be a good thing for those of you who get your interest tantalized by what I did manage to put together. The surprise will be all the greater.
E.S.T. created a very tense, half-clinical, half-raging record when they made Leucocyte. The name of it has a resonance which really captures the mood very well – white blood cells, simultaneously beneficial, aggressive and, in certain conditions, deadly, no? There’s a slightly claustrophobic atmosphere on the record, as if the listener is moving through a tube, falling prey to a feeling of disorentation, sometimes panic, while always coming back to moments of glorious sonic architecture and simple, breathtaking bliss. The what the songs follow each-other almost feels random, stressed, the pacing of the record is full of pauses, very short passages which obviously feel like translations between parts, while said parts don’t actually seem to fit at first glance, and yet, in spite of all this, there’s an undercurrent, a feeling of sense animating the whole thing.
Tumultuous, difficult, powerful, staggering, monumental, Leucocyte is an album which captures the sonic imprint of the process of creation. It’s a closed circle, a Ouroborous snake, all sinew and strength, and it’s everything I had longed for and hoped for from an E.S.T. recording, ever since I heard them the first time. I’m sure I’ll end up missing them at one point, when the musical landscape will appear barren to my foolish eyes. But until then I feel I have no reason to be sad for the cessation of their creative partnership in such a harsh way – Leucocyte is a testament to its validity and, you know, what more can one ask for? See you tomorrow!