Norwegian bassist Mats Eilertsen
has a large discography as a performer, but his compositional talents are equally striking. His previous ECM release as a leader, 2016's Rubicon
, was a composer's showcase featuring a septet. But he has also worked in much smaller configurations, for example Meander
(Ora Fonogram, 2017) his recent duet recording with guitarist Jo David Meyer Lysne
This album reunites him with pianist Harmen Fraanje
(who appeared on Rubicon
) and drummer Thomas Strønen
(a fellow band member during the early days of the Food
collective). It is the trio's first album for ECM, following Elegy
(Hubro Records, 2010) and Sails Set
(Hubro Records, 2013). The set list consists of three Eilertsen compositions and two from Fraanje, with the rest created collectively (two by the trio, two brief piano/bass duets).
But there is a collective identity that permeates the entire session. The two version of Eilertsen's somber and beautiful "22" that open and close the album demonstrate the group dynamics. Titled for the 22nd of July 2011, it was composed in response to the shocking news of the terrorist attacks in Oslo and the nearby Norwegian island of Utøya. The first version opens with Fraanje's unaccompanied piano freely exploring the theme, before the rest of the trio joins in. The closing variant performance is all trio, but both are rubato exercises in group communication without solos. There is something especially heartbreaking about Fraanje's introduction in the opening version: ample reason for including both of them.
The first trio collaboration "Perpetum" begins with atmospheric textures before featuring haunting arco playing from the leader, finally launching into the perpetuum rhythm promised by the title (but much gentler than a group such as fellow ECM artist Nik Bärtsch
's Ronin would do it). Fraanje's "Albatross" follows, a lyrical exploration for the entire band which further demonstrates that this music is not about soloistseven the compositional input is only a starting point. Eilertsen's "The Void" does have an actual bass solo: a brief expressive interlude that does not distract from the flow. The title tune is another collective creation, which demonstrates that the group can groove when they want to, even recalling the ecstatic moments of the Keith Jarrett
This is a very special session, full of an extraordinary degree of empathetic playing . Harmen Fraanje's piano playing is especially impressive. He deserves a place among the many fine young jazz players. And the trio will hopefully be heard from again. A little sooner next time, please!