Artist: Espen Eriksen Trio
Album: You Had Me at Goodbye
Genre: Contemporary Jazz, Post-Bop
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
03. In The Woods
04. Masaka Tsara
05. Not Even In Brazil
07. On The Jar
08. To Whom It May Concern
When Rune Grammofon released In The Country’s outstanding 2005 debut, This Was the Pace of My Heartbeat, it was promoted as the Norwegian label’s “first jazz record.” Still, that piano trio’s eminently beautiful music retained the skewed edges so definitive of the label, while subsequent releases, including 2009’s ambitious Whiteout, have aligned even more closely with Rune’s experimental, forward-looking aesthetic. With You Had Me At Goodbye, Norwegian pianist Espen Eriksen and his trio further mine a new tradition forged, in recent years, by contemporaries including fellow Nord Tord Gustavsen and the late Esbjorn Svensson, from Sweden. But there is a difference.
Espen Eriksen Trio possesses the same kind of compositional pop-like simplicity that made Svensson’s group, e.s.t., megastars in Europe, and placed it on an upward trajectory in North America before being tragically cut-off by Svensson’s untimely death in 2008. Unlike e.s.t.’s increasing use of sound processing and, at times, contrapuntal complexity in its eminently accessible music, however, Eriksen’s shared roots in American pianist Keith Jarrett are couched in a more economical and all-acoustic context, mirrored in bassist Lars Tormod Jenset’s equally spare but ever-effective choices and drummer Andreas Bye’s allegiance to collective groove over individual virtuosity.
The trio’s gospel roots are not far distanced from Gustavsen albums like The Ground (ECM, 2005); but whereas that pianist’s trio mines a very specific place of tempo and dynamic—with drummer Jarle Vespestad’s playing so soft as to be more a whisper than a pulse—Eriksen’s music is more propulsive. The group may simmer more often than it boils, but it does kick into slightly higher gear for the elegantly funky “Masaka Tsara” and even more fervent “Not Even in Brazil,” where Bye’s turbulent underpinning recalls Norwegian drum icon Jon Christensen in his ability to focus a pulse yet remain temporally pliant.
There’s an appealing muscularity on display here—especially with Jenset, whose tone references Arild Andersen and whose approach possesses an attractively staggered sense that, at times, creates a rhythmic house of cards with Bye and Eriksen, capable of dissolving if any one player drops out of the equation. As structured as the music is, and as selfless as the trio is about playing it—the eight Eriksen compositions clock in at just over 37 minutes, with most tracks less than five—there’s not a moment of grandstanding. Instead, You Had Me At Goodbye’s strength is in an underlying collaborative freedom that makes each listen a new surprise, even as Eriksen’s undeniable lyricism fixes itself in the memory.
Accusations of Nordic melancholy may be supported by the painfully beautiful “Anthem” and classically informed “Intermezzo,” with dynamics so understated as to turn dramatic the slightest shift, and where Jenset’s compelling arco is a highlight despite Eriksen’s voice being in the lead. But there’s a greater sense of joy on the gospel-tinged “The Jar” and Brad Mehldau-esque “In the Woods.” You Had Me At Goodbye signals another emergent group on the Scandinavian scene—sure to be worth watching—with its own superb reevaluation and reinvention of the piano trio tradition.
By JOHN KELMAN