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Espen Eriksen Trio With Andy Sheppard: Perfectly Unhappy

Gareth Thompson By

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Primo Levi wrote that perfect happiness and perfect unhappiness are both beyond reach. For this he blamed our human condition, which is opposed to everything infinite.

Maybe this album's title is also a comment on our hope and despair through life's journey. Not within the realm of Levi's suffering, of course, but in our common role as sentient beings. Those of us for whom music is a great solace should thus revere the union of Espen Eriksen and Andy Sheppard.

Eriksen's act is based in Oslo and was founded a decade ago. Admired for the intimate warmth of its arrangements, the pianist's threesome has drawn comparison with those of Tord Gustavsen and Esbjorn Svensson. But for a wider ambient likeness, think also Mathias Eick's album Ravensburg for ECM, which starred Andreas Ulvo on piano.

Eriksen keeps his compositions as crisp and sparkling as a winter park, backed by drummer Andreas Bye and bassist Lars Tormod Jenset. Sheppard, meanwhile, is in his absolute element. First invited to guest with the trio in 2016, he then joined them for tours of Korea and Norway. Fond of using smoky subtones on his many class albums, Sheppard's romantic richness climbs new peaks here.

"Above The Horizon" begins the record with a serene breeze, though Sheppard trills the odd hot shiver as if excited by his own creating. "1974" sees Eriksen give himself a rare solo passage, whilst "Naked Trees" allows Janset's bass to throb and bob, as Bye's ticking sticks mark the time. Eriksen opens the title track with a run of stately chords, befitting of a man whose background includes the church organ; "Indian Summer" has melodies that glow like autumn fruits and "Suburban Folk Song" is a lilting dance you can imagine being transcribed to guitar.

Idle labelling on streaming services would likely tag this album as 'coffee table' or 'late night.' But imagine it playing in your local hip coffee shop, as you stretch into a new day. Then hear it again after dark, when the closing cut "Home" seems aptly titled, as you sink back into familiar things. Some of Sheppard's notes on this number are like relaxing sighs, fit for the softest pillow.

Nordic jazz has compelled many with its legacy of icy introverts. Yet there is little room for solemn silence on this luxurious record. It offers dappled and painterly music, with pieces that reflect rather than brood. The near perfect outcome of Eriksen-meets-Sheppard will not leave you forlorn.

Track Listing: Above The Horizon; 1974; Perfectly Unhappy; Indian Summer; Suburban Folk Song; Naked Trees; Revisited; Home.

Personnel: Espen Eriksen: piano; Lars Tormod Jenset: bass; Andreas Bye: drums; Andy Sheppard: saxophone.

Title: Perfectly Unhappy | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Rune Grammofon

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