I would be lying if I claimed to be an expert in Swedish jazz — and I sincerely hope you don’t come to Prefix Magazine for up-to-date Swedish jazz coverage. I also would be lying if I claimed that the reason I’m covering Esbjörn Svensson Trio’s final album, Leucocyte, had nothing to do with the untimely death of frontman Svensson back in July at age 44. Instead, I listened to Leucocyte as a basis for understanding where the international jazz scene overlaps with what’s going on in the Anglo-American indie-rock scene. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the parallels were striking.
Ambient rock, which has been a source of fascination for musicians of all stripes worldwide since Brian Eno popularized it in the 1970s, is just as strong on the first half of Leucocyte as it is in albums by Boris, And You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead, and even Godspeed You! Black Emperor. What makes Leucocyte more impressive is that it accomplishes a wholly distinct sound, and a sound that builds tension on its granular-detailed second half, through almost no use of electronics. The rare occasions where the album does use electronic distortion, such as on “Leucocyte III: Ad Mortum,” produce a devastating, ethereal element. In hindsight, this track adds an inevitable beyond the grave feel to Leucocyte.
Svennson was noted for his freethinking mixing of pop and jazz genres and styles, which is why the work on Leucocyte feels fresh and enticing for just about any audience. Svensson’s death, from a freak scuba diving accident, is undoubtedly a tragedy that leaves the world worse off. The silver lining of Svensson’s death is that it has exposed his infinitely rewarding and enthralling work to audiences that would not have experienced it otherwise.