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Oddgeir Berg Trio At Scott's Jazz Club

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One of the leading modern jazz trios of the post-Esbjorn Svensson Trio landscape.
Oddgeir Berg Trio
Scott's Jazz Club
Belfast, N. Ireland
January 19, 2024

A cold Friday night in January. Belts tightened after the festive season splurging. Just the day before, 150.000 thousand public sector workers had gone on 24-hour strike over low pay—the largest such action in Northern Ireland in a generation. Yet despite the biting economic realities for many people, it was business as usual at Scott's Jazz Club, with a packed house for the Oddgeir Berg Trio.

The original line-up of pianist Oddgeir Berg, bassist Karl-Joakim Wisløff and drummer Klaus Robert Blomvik had gained wide experience in the fields of Norwegian pop, rock and contemporary folk, playing with and arranging for with the likes of Pål Angelskår, Helge Hummervoll, and Dylan Mondegreen. No doubt something of these experiences, not least in terms of production values—and insights into the sonic possibilities afforded by synthesizers and electronics—played into Before Dawn (Ozella Music, 2018), the trio's impressive electro-acoustic debut.

In The End Of The Night (Ozella Music, 2019), the quite beautiful Christmas Came Early (Ozella Music, 2021)—more Jan Johansson or Dag Arnesen than Vince Guaraldi—and While We Wait For A Brand New Day (Ozella Music, 2022) followed in quick succession. These albums established the Oddgeir Berg Trio as one of the leading modern jazz trios of the post-Esbjorn Svensson Trio landscape.

The trio has also survived some upheavals. Lars Bernsten replaced Blomvik in 2021, while Wisløff's departure after four albums opened the bass door for Adun Rom. This new line-up of the Oddgeir Berg Trio has an album scheduled for 2024 release, but there were no teasers on this Belfast gig, which drew almost exclusively from Berg's existing discography.

From the opening number, "Here Comes The Toughest," with Berg's flowing melodicism underpinned by a pronounced groove and water-tight choreography, the influence of e.s.t. was evident; Melodic hooks you could hang your coat on, pedal-filtered bowed bass that steered the music into scorching rock terrain, pockets of contemplative melancholy, and a keen sense of the epic.

But Berg's trio has picked up where e.s.t. left off, with a more refined and distinctive use of electronic keys and effects coloring their music. The absence of a grand piano in Scott's Jazz Club—surely a necessity going forward—meant that Berg was confined to a Kawai ES8 and a smaller Casio keyboard, and for all his efforts, the sound was just not as rich or as penetrative as a concert piano.

The keyboard set-up favored quieter numbers like the very pretty lullaby "The Dream of Adam" and "Happy Mornings," where soft brushes, foregrounded bass and Berg's lyricism were central. Spacious tunes too, like the feel-good funk of "Psalmish," with its hint of Nina Simone's gospel-infused blues, and Berg's echo-drenched glissandi on the powerfully brooding "Sunday Mood" also came across well.

The second set opened with "Scenes from a Movie," with the leader's lilting melody bookending a terrific drum solo. Bernsten's drumming throughout the set eschewed flashiness, but his in-the-pocket grooves were still hypnotic in their unrelenting drive. In the midst of the trio's hooks, grooves and drama, the serenity of the piano-led tone poem "Oldies" worked a charm.

When Berg stretched out, unleashing rippling cascades on "Vagabond" and a spectacular, tumbling run on the charging, vamp-fueled "Bring On the Night," one longed to hear the more pronounced dynamics of a concert piano at play.

The end in sight, Berg pulled an unexpected rabbit out of the hat with Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," the pianist's tender intro/outro framing some adventurous trio interplay. The final number, "Post Mortem," struck an enticing balance between melancholy lyricism and stately grandeur—a send off fit for royalty.

Post gig, the three musicians stood outside in zero degrees, enjoying a drink and the very fresh air. What was the weather doing in Norway? "Minus twenty and snow up to here," Berg said, hand at waist height. Good to know that Belfast has great weather, as well as great jazz.

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