Published: December, 2005, Rasputin Manifesto
Jazz CD reviews

By Michael Fortes

Esbjörn Svensson Trio
Viaticum
(Act Music/215 Records)

Swedish pianist Svensson and his cohorts Dan Berglund (bass) and Magnus Öström (drums) released Viaticum overseas this past January, though it didn't wave its calloused mitts at America for attention until now. Apparently these guys are a fairly celebrated combo over in Europe (their press release cites BBC Jazz Awards, German Jazz Awards, a French Grammy, etc.), and listening to this new disc bears out why that might be. They're definitely doing something exciting with the trio format - not quite Bad Plus exciting, but something with more subtlety and nuance. Well, that applies to just about every track on this album except for the 4th one, entitled "The Unstable Table & The Infamous Fable." The ominous, extended rolling snare towards the end of the piece, when combined with some distorted string sonics which could either be bass or guitar, sounds positively evil. The reverb-heavy drums at the conclusion of the otherwise gentle "In The Tail Of Her Eye" also venture into some spooky territory, serving as a segue to "Letter From The Leviathan." Its left-hand piano riff conjures the image of an angry giant briskly approaching. Yes, these guys are scary, and not just because of their chops.


Betty Joplin
Visions of the Moment
(Preserved Moments)

When I ventured over to Betty Joplin's web site (www.bettyjoplin.com), at the time its counter had only registered 718 hits. Go check it out, drive that counter up! This relatively unknown jazz singer and pianist is at least as good as Diana Krall, if not perhaps a notch or two above for emotional investment in the songs she sings. Not only that, her piano-bass-drums-guitar combo sounds an awful lot like Krall's. If the major jazz labels are looking for a new star to market, they might do well to give Betty a call.

Though she only plays piano on two of this album's 15 tracks, Betty soars with her voice through 'em all. Set up as a song cycle of love lost, and love found again perhaps too early, Visions of the Moment covers a wide variety of material, from jazz standards like "You Don't Know What Love Is" and "I Thought About You," to Sinatra-associated torch songs like "A Cottage For Sale" and "Fly Me To The Moon." Even some tunes from the pop world like the Beatles' "And I Love Her" (retitled "And I Love Him," with some gutsy guitar accompaniment), Stevie Wonder's jazzy "Seems So Long" and Bill Withers' funky "Use Me." The Stevie tune is particularly affecting, as she switches the point of view to the feminine and sings with only her own piano playing as accompaniment in a somber, reflective arrangement.

The record's only real flaw is its length - stop at track 10, and you have a perfectly satisfying jazz vocal record. Everything after that is gravy.