Over the course of five years in the 1990s, drummer Peter Erskine, pianist John Taylor and bassist Palle Danielsson came very close to perfecting the contemporary piano trio presentation. Across four ECM releases, You Never Know
(1993), Time Being
(1994), As It Is
(1996) and Juni
(1999), the international group, all with prior ECM history, came together under the uncustomary leadership of a drummer. The body of their work as a collective reflected their individual aspirations toward sharing the complimentary legacy of the format with more personal statements, albeit, ones that were not usually outspoken.
The box set release of the four Peter Erskine Trio albums takes its wordplay-title As It Was
from the third of the previously mentioned albums and comes out under the ECM Old and New Masters Series
banner. Taylor, the late, great British virtuoso, was the primary composer for the group though the dynamics reflected a categorically democratic rendering of the pieces as was the wish of the leader. Danielsson's previous trio experiences with Bill Evans
and Keith Jarrett
made him uniquely qualified in this setting. Erskine himself had worked in the trio setting with Jan Garbarek
and Miroslav Vitous
and established his contacts with Taylor and Danielsson while working with Kenny Wheeler
Each of the four discs in the box follows the chronology of the original releases. Of the thirty-seven tracks, Taylor had penned fifteen, Erskine, eight and Danielsson, two. The trio collaborated in the writing of "Terraces" (Time Being
) and multi-genre composer Vince Mendoza
and Kenny Wheeler
account for a half-dozen other compositions throughout the collection. The sole standardCole Porter
's "Everything I Love" appeared on You Never Know
The overall variations in material and style are subtle over the course of these albums, but there is clear progression, individually and collectively. You Never Know
is dominated by Taylor's updated impression of Bill Evans
' elegance. His poetic flair is incomparable whether playing Mendoza's "Amber Waves" or Erskine's beautiful "On the Lake." More at ease with each other when Time Being
was released, the album has heightened interplay between Taylor and Danielsson. While Taylor's playing remains bucolic, he now plays with a greater strength and Danielsson with more concentrated punctuation.
"For Ruth" (As It Is
) exemplifies the more open feel to which the trio has moved. More angular and edgy, the piano and bass take a bolder stance toward each other especially on "The Lady In the Lake" and "Episode." Erskine allows himself to break out of the background with a short but dramatic solo on "Romeo & Juliet. Though Erskine is often content to take a nuanced approach to the kit, he can demonstrate both finesse and force as on the more minimal "Prelude No.2" (Juni
). It is on this final trio album that Danielsson's voice is the most distinctive.
The trio took the most dramatic chances with Juni
where Taylor seemingly threw caution to the wind on pieces like "The Ant & The Elk" and "Twelve." Still, tracks such as "Siri" and "Namasti" serve as reminders that his playing was often the embodiment of grace. There is no shortage of great piano trio albums in the ECM catalog what with Keith Jarrett
, Tord Gustavsen
, Bobo Stenson
and others. By comparison, The Peter Erskine Trio may well have flown under the radar in its prime but this box set makes it clear that they were a major creative force. Further, it is a validation of the broader role that an exceptional drummer/composer/arraigner can have in presenting a unique and expansive vision, even if it comes from the back of a darkened stage.