The ominous cover art and brooding band photo on the cover of the Norwegian Helge Lien trio’s second DIW release, Asymmetrics, promises a stormy affair, but true to the title, the nine tracks surprise and deliver instead a restrained, at times even gentle mood without, however, sacrificing intensity.
Pianist Lien, bassist Frode Berg and drummer Knut Aalefjaer craft a set of five Lien originals and four standards that surges from dark riffing (Lien’s “Mann Av Huse Forbi”) and powerful bop (Davis’ “Nardis”) to delicate lyricism (Wolf’s “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most”). On “Autumn Leaves” they combine their approaches, producing a delicious friction of the traditional and modern. Berg and Aalefjaer set up a jagged interplay on the intro to which Lien weds a respectful, yet rather swift rendition of the melody. Later Berg follows Lien’s lead in a swinging bowed solo, one that Aalefjaer tries his best to disrupt with surprising accents.
Such swift changes encapsulate the trio’s two-pronged method: cleave close to tradition to keep the music accessible, but push the limits enough to give the improvisations an edge. Lien’s “Furulokka” unabashedly expresses a rich sentimentality. Lien luxuriates the lullaby melody with subtle dissonances, while Berg quietly counterpoints and Aalefjaer paints the background with airy cymbal splashes and broad gong strokes. On other pieces, like “Mann Av Huse Forbi” and “Hypotek,” Lien strips the melodic content to a naked core, and Berg and Aalefjaer accordingly create a spare pulse. Such a minimalism results in a contemplative restraint layered with a dark urgency.
Amongst all the press heaped on the Norwegian fusions of electronica and jazz, Lien’s elegant acoustic space has been overlooked. A shame, but unfortunately not a surprise. Unlike the dance floor pleasing throb of some, the Helge Lien trio’s subtle refraction of the piano trio takes time to appreciate, and will definitely reward repeated listening.
Track Listing: 1.Spiral Circle 2.Mann Av Huse Forbi 3.Nardis 4.Nav Og Natt 5.Beneath It All 6.Autumn Leaves 7.Furulokka 8.Hypotek 9.Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most