Listening to the Espen Eriksen Trio….

Some time back  I wrote on here about the Michael Aadal Group’s excellent debut album and was staggered by the colossal number of hits that ensued, so it’s time to review another debut CD from a Norwegian ensemble in the hope that I can repeat the process.  Again, it’s perhaps worth stressing for those who may not be aware of the fact (and I apologise to any Scandinavian readers who will be well aware of this ) that since the early 90’s or thereabouts, jazz in Scandinavia has been going through a veritable eruption of new talent that shows little sign of slowing down.  Also, it’s not just the volume of artists emanating from an area with a total population that is only marginally greater than London, it’s also the variety and quality of these artists.  From the near industrial electronica of Supersilent through Jaga Jazzist’s sprightly jazz-rock to the chamber jazz of Tord Gustavsen,the  sheer range covered by Scandinavian Jazz is  quite staggering.

From the late 90’s, we saw the emergence of another major trend in contemporary jazz; the resurgence (with knobs on) of the piano trio.   Keith Jarrett’s ‘Standards’ Trio had been around for a long time, but now the hugely popular Esbjörn Svensson Trio (now disbanded for obvious reasons)  from Sweden burst on to the scene and in their considerable wake came  the likes of Peter Erskine’s multinational trio with Palle Danielsson and John Taylor, Norway’s Tord Gustavsen Trio and the ever-evolving Simple Acoustic Trio from Poland who became Tomasz Stanko’s backing band for a while, then morphed into ‘The Trio’ and resumed making their own albums, this time for ECM. 

From Australia, The Necks were delivering their own unique take on this sub-genre and from America we witnessed the emergence of the Brad Mehldau Trio and a variety of albums (including some trios) led by the excellent pianist Marc Copland.  More Scandinavian trios emerged or re-emerged with veteran Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson making some fine albums and further trios led by the likes of Jan Lundgren and Lars Danielsson also producing fascinating music. 

By 2010, it might reasonably be thought that this wave of piano trios had run its course  and that may be true to some extent; Mehldau seems more interested in collaborations with Pat Metheny and new works for larger ensembles, such as the recently released ‘Highway Rider’.  Gustavsen has drafted saxophonist Tore Brunborg into his trio and Lars Danielsson, too, seems more interested in working with larger groups.  However, this year has already seen ‘Poesia’  a splendid trio album from New York-based pianist Edward Simon.  And now along come the Espen Eriksen Trio…..who are Espen Eriksen (piano), Lars Tormod Jenset (bass) and Andreas Bye (drums)

I know very little about them except that they are based in Oslo and record for the Rune Grammofon label.  RG has made a name recording more left -field Norwegian projects like Svalastog and Supersilent, which is what makes the EET’s debut album – ‘You had me at goodbye’ – all the more surprising.  It is, quite simply, an album of exquisitely rendered, gently swinging and original melodic pieces which whilst sometimes echoing the work of Brad Mehldau’s trio, actually seems to delve  further back in time to the likes of Bill Evans and Ahmad Jamal for inspiration

So far, Espen Eriksen & his colleagues seem to be playing purely domestic engagements such as Stavanger’s ‘Maijazz’ next month, but it’s surely only a question of time before the wider world latches on to their engaging melodic offerings.

My only criticism of what is undoubtedly a terrific debut album is its duration.  Whilst I would rather have 40 minutes of quality than 80 minutes of dross, ‘You had me at goodbye’ actually clocks in at somewhat less than 40 minutes and with cd’s so costly these days, EET might want to consider offering slightly more in the way of value for money next time around.

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