Those fortunate people who have listened to Norwegian piano trio Eple Trio would not be surprised by this beautiful debut from pianist Andreas Ulvo. Just as his Eple Trio blurred the artificial distinctions within specific genres, his Ulvo Ensemble follows suit and combines elements from jazz, classical and traditional music in an impressive, organic manner. Ulvo titled this recording based on a saying by English mystic Alan Watts (Watts in turn borrowed the expression from a Japanese Zen Master), meaning that there are many words with which to describe the sound of the rain, but none come closer than the experience itself. The same, according to Ulvo, goes about this recording: there is no literal description that may replace the listening experience given by this gem.
Ulvo, who often performs with his fellow countrymen such as trumpeter Matthias Eick, vocalist Solveig Slettahjell and reed player Karl Seglem, penned the nine pieces, and is joined here by clarinetist Morten Barrikmo Engebretsen and celloist Erlend Habbestad. Ulvo begins with two meditative solo piano pieces, "A Little Sad, A Little Happy" and "Night Songs." The cinematic musical landscapes and nuanced melodic articulation may suggest a conscious influence by the more chamber-like recordings of pianist and composer Ketil Bjornstad.
When Ulvo is joined by Engebretsen and Habbestad he opts for playful and graceful reflections on traditional dance forms with "Two-Step" and "Waltzer," which are both minimalist in their spirit. "Samsara," named after the Buddhist cycle of birth and rebirth, is an arresting, mysterious suite which is still true to the minimalist character of this recording, but stesses a deeper, darker sadness. "All Aspects Of A Dance" relives the melancholic feeling with a delicate vision of imaginary free-form dancing. "Minor Mountain" is another solo piano piece that suggest a dramatic inner conflict, while "East Of West" features the fragile interplay of the trio with its patient style of developing a theme. Ulvo concludes with a solo spontaneous improvised piece, "Leela."
Ulvo is right. This recording has an elusive wabi-sabi quality, of an imperfect, fleeting beauty that no words can portray its simple, innocent essence. But still, it is such a beauty that is so vivid and breathtaking.
Personnel: Andreas Ulvo: piano; Morten Barrikmo Engebretsen: clarinets; Erlend Habbestad: cello.