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Recorded at legendary Rainbow Studios in Oslo, Norway, Eple Trio's second album, The Widening Sphere of Influence is an apt title, revealing the evolution of the trio and the incorporation of new sonorities a year on from its fine debut, Made This(NORCD. 2007). That album announced the arrival of a trio distinctive for the subtlety and beauty of its playing and the sparseness of its arrangements. The blend of Norwegian folk soundswaltz, lullaby and church influencesminimalist European classical tradition and elements of jazz with the most sparing use of drums (odd given that drummer Jonas Sjovaag wrote nearly half the tunes) immediately suggested the most celebrated music of Swedish pianist Jan Johansson, an influence that pianist Andreas Ulvo happily acknowledges.
Whilst there has hardly been a musical revolution since, the changes in the dynamics of the trio are very evident. Again, all but one track are written by pianist Adreas Ulvo and drummer Jonas Sjovaag, but there is a definite shift away from the overt folk and classical influences, and the emergence of a more personal sound, typified by the gorgeous "Dawn," which features the repetition of a single note on piano around which Ulvo weaves a delightfully simple melody.
Another major departure from Made This is the greater voice given to the drums and bass, which results in an aesthetic which is more jazz-oriented, more dramatic, and moodier. The piano melody which starts "Black Oak" could be from a Hammer House of Horror movie and only the absence of ghoulish wailing initially separates it from a Scooby Doo haunted-house soundtrack, which is not to say it lacks charm, or substance.
The addition of Mathias Eick on trumpet on "Blackwater" brings additional color and contrasting tone to the mix, and he plays an unhurried and interesting mid-tempo solo. On the more abstract "Eclipse," which begins with restless percussion, the guitar effects of Even Helte Hermansen lend an almost distorted electronics ambience to the tune. Dramatic piano chords and guitar feedback increase the tension before it gradually peters out. "March of the Mystery Men" features Sigurd Hole on bowed bass, and as the intensity of the piece mounts it is difficult not to think of bassist Dan Berglund and e.s.t.
The hypnotic intro to "Triplex" features a three-note marimba-style riff and damped piano plucking. Hole's bass comes to dominate the piece which carries nobody's stamp on it but Eple Trio's. The album closer, the lovely "Buoy," features rumbling toms, a gentle bass and occasional washing cymbals which carry the delicate playing of Ulvos on this, the most lyrical of the album's pieces.
Musically, Eple Trio has come quite a way in a short period of time. As it embraces a less derivative style and finds a more confident voice, its music gains in potency, yet not at the expense of beauty or lyricism, which are the common denominators of its first two albums. A name to watch out for.
Track Listing: River Song; Dawn; First Monday in October; March of the Mystery Men; Blackwater; Eclipse;
Black Oak; Triplex; Buoy.
Personnel: Andreas Ulvo: piano; Sigurd Hole: bass; Jonas Howden Sjovaag: drums; Mathias Eick: trumpet
(5); Even Helte Hermansen: guitar (6).