Espen Berg: The Trondheim ConcertBy
A possibly apocryphal story concerns one such energy player and New York City's Jazzmobile outreach programme. In the 1960s, Jazzmobile (the organization still existsin 2022 ) brought jazz to the people via accomplished musicians performing for free on the back of a flat-bed truck, which parked up on street corners around Harlem. In the story, our energy player climbed, uninvited, on to the truck and joined in with the band. He made such a discordant noise that the bandleader stopped playing and turned to him and said, "What do you think you're doing?" Replied the energy player, "I'm just playing what I feel." To which the bandleader said, "Well, feel something in B-flat motherfucker."
Espen Berg's public embarkation on free improvisation, contrastingly, followed a lengthy musical apprenticeship. Indeed, Berg did not feel ready to give a wholly improvised public performance until a full fifteen years after he started to explore the concept in earnest, and seven years after he had released his first solo album, Noctilucent (Atterklang, 2012), which included a few freely improvised tracks. The performance, included on The Trondheim Concert in its entirety, took place at the Dokkhuset concert hall in Trondheim on November 13 2019.
Earlier in 2019, Berg released the exalted Free To Play (Odin, 2019), his third album as leader of the Espen Berg Trio. Part in-the-moment soul, part through-composed formalism, part close-quarter collective-improvisation, the album is perhaps the most engaging Norwegian piano trio album since Svein Finnerud's psychedelia-flavoured masterpiece, Plastic Sun (Sonet), back in 1970.
With the serene and elegant and shimmeringly beautiful The Trondheim Concert, Berg has produced an entirely different artefact, but one of equally lofty stature, created wholly in the moment.
Berg's approach to free improvisation is worth noting, although ultimately it is, as always, what is in the grooves that counts. Berg has trained himself to allow moods, motifs, rhythms, chord progressions and time signatures to emerge spontaneously from his unconscious mind, and then uses cognitive thought to structure and refine them. In practice, the process is dauntingly complex, but like a virtuoso ballet dancer who shows no sign of visible effort during a gravity defying performance, Berg makes it appear simple and toil free.
The process differs from surrealist automatism, which it superficially resembles, because automatism seeks to eliminate all conscious thought from the equation. Berg's approach is, supposedly, similar to that used by Keith Jarrett. One says "supposedly" because Jarrett has preferred to draw a veil over his methodology, perhaps to encourage a certain mystique to develop around it.
Although Berg did not give his first public performance of wholly improvised solo music until 2019, he has been involved in free improvisation since he began taking piano lessons, aged sixteen, in 1999. "I got the young Helge Lien as my piano teacher in high school," he says. "I was self-taught up until then. Right away, Helge threw me into free improvisation. It was scary at first, but it was so exciting that I knew I had to stick with it."
We can be thankful he has stuck with it. The Trondheim Concert confirms Berg as among the most compelling musicians of our time, one who seems destined to make as much impact on the international jazz scene as have his compatriots Jan Garbarek, Eivind Aarset and Jon Balke before him. Meanwhile, enjoy this album.
Liner Notes copyright © 2023 Chris May.
The Trondheim Concert can be purchased here.
Contact Chris May at All About Jazz.
Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz and editor of the style magazine Jocks & Nerds; he was previously the editor of Black Music & Jazz Review magazine.
Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10.
Espen Berg: piano.
Title: The Trondheim Concert | Year Released: 2022 | Record Label: NXN Recordings
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About Espen Berg
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