Espen Eriksen uncorks a surprise at the end of this remarkable live album. For the closing cut, his trio takes on Krzysztof Komeda
's theme tune for the 1968 urban horror flick Rosemary's Baby
. To begin with, gothic piano hammerings and eerie bass scrapings replace Komeda's spooked female "la-la" vocals. Yet by the end, Eriksen's keyboard genius sweeps us into a realm of muted melancholy, pitched somewhere between dread and contemplation. It becomes a piece that seems to articulate the very mystery of life and death.
But this will not shock anyone familiar with the suspense of Eriksen's haunting records. His music might well soundtrack an endless summer, but those who just hear his angelic muse at play are missing the point. Eriksen's best work has always had a knife-edge tension, where a lazy Sunday morning beckons the obscurity of night. For this outing recorded in Oslo and Poland, the Eriksen trio is joined by long-time associate Andy Sheppard
on saxophone. The seven tracks each extend their studio versions by several minutes, allowing extra space for moods to brighten and darken, or hearts to break and heal. Over a classic shuffle beat on "1974," Sheppard lays down one of Eriksen's most seductive slow melodies. But true to form, it all turns jagged and mysterious as minor keys flood through Eriksen's fingers whilst Sheppard runs riot. "Anthem" then finds Sheppard toying with the original track's bass melody on a blissfully untroubled performance.
Faced with a pushy rhythm on "Suburban Folk Song," Eriksen goes into the delirium of one who has a natural affinity with ragas and the miraculous. Halfway through, the audience can no longer contain itself and bursts into applause. Sheppard played on the studio rendition but doesn't feature here. For once, he scarcely needs to. "In The Mountains" stars Sheppard in thrilling form though, backed by a moody conga beat which has more groove and grit than its album counterpart. Sheppard is absent from his studio role on "Perfectly Unhappy," so Eriksen dances tenderly around the main tune. This might be the album's most impulsive performance, but it remains identifiably Eriksen in every chord.
"Dancing Demons" has an opening melody of tropical clarity, which descends into something darkly opposite with its interplay of bass and treble notes. Then comes a return to warming purity, leaving us rapt at the dreamlike coda. After which, that spine-tingling slant on "Rosemary's Baby" serves a reminder that in Eriksen's world the everyday becomes strangely altered. Finally, a special mention goes to the recordings here, where each instrument booms with verve and sharpness. Such orchestral resonance feels akin to having a front row seat.
Eriksen's music toils somewhere below the surface, digging for inner emotions. And yet, it remains ambiguous enough to allow each listener their own visions or feelings. This tantalising live album deserves to place him in the pantheon of greats.
1974; Anthem; Suburban Folk Song; In The Mountains; Perfectly Unhappy; Dancing Demons; Rosemary’s Baby.