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Espen Berg: Noctilucent

Eyal Hareuveni By

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It is rare to encounter an artist whose debut already radiates such sheer beauty, but pianist/composer Espen Berg—who has collaborated with fellow Norwegians such as saxophonist Marius Neset and the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra—explains, in his liner notes, that he began to plan and experiment with his solo playing eight years ago. Over the years he has perfected a highly personal aesthetic, combining traditional folk elements with spontaneous improvised structures, both in a way that reflect his deepest emotions.

Berg's compositions bridge the gap between the innocent romanticism of Norwegian folk songs—imbued with his country's captivating nature landscapes—and lyrical jazz improvisation. There are a few parallels to pianist Keith Jarrett's solo piano improvisations, as on the hopeful composition "Sunrise," but Berg is humbler and more concise, stressing the music before the musician. All the compositions sparkle with purity and freshness, folded like a series of nuanced mini-dramas with recurrent themes that build to a profound intellectual and emotional musical story.

Like other notable Norwegian pianist such as Jon Balke and Andreas Ulvo, Berg is a master of suspense. The complex structures that he weaves, all performed with total calm, reveal their myriad qualities with each listen. "Folketone" obviously has its roots in an ancient, impressionist traditional melody, but this simple theme is abstracted with great care and sensitivity into a sophisticated harmonic structure, while keeping its immediate emotional impact. The title piece, meaning luminous at night, is an apt description for this mesmerizing composition. Slowly, an almost casual natural scenery develops into a revealing personal vision within inner or greater natural surroundings, translated into a delicate musical play. The minimalist "Journey's End" sounds like an attempt to summarize the pianist's first solo journey but also offers insight into future solo voyages. And, indeed, Berg promises that Noctilucent is only the first in a series of recordings where he will keep exploring the solo format.

It is almost impossible to translate into words the beauty and the excitement that Noctilucent brings. One of the most beautiful releases of 2012.

Track Listing: Til Johannes; Vandringsmann; A majority; Proving lights; Folketone; Ved Vågsfjorden; Sunrise; Noctilucent; En vakker dag; Journey´s end.

Personnel: Espen Berg: piano.

Title: Noctilucent | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Atterklang


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