Espen Eriksen Trio: You Had Me At Goodbye (2010)
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 Esbjörn 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 dynamicwith drummer Jarle Vespestad's playing so soft as to be more a whisper than a pulseEriksen'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 hereespecially 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 itthe eight Eriksen compositions clock in at just over 37 minutes, with most tracks less than fivethere'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 scenesure to be worth watchingwith its own superb reevaluation and reinvention of the piano trio tradition.
Track Listing: Anthem; Grinde; In the Woods; Masaka Tsara; Not Even in Brazil; Intermezzo; On the Jar; To Whom It May Concern.
Personnel: Espen Eriksen: piano; Lars Tormod Jenset: bass; Andreas Bye: drums.
Record Label: Rune Grammofon