The Norwegian Espen Eriksen Trio was formed in 2007 and its personnel has remained unchanged ever since, across three previous album releases on Rune Grammofon. Such stability has allowed pianist Espen Eriksen, bassist Lars Tormod Jenset and drummer Andreas Bye to bond together and develop the particular chemistry that a successful trio needs, without having to resort to gimmicks or trickery to get their music noticed. Primarily based upon Eriksen's own compositions, that music has a rich sense of melody coupled with a poignant lyricism that is infectious.
In 2016 the trio invited British tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard to guest with them in London. As Sheppard's playing shares the qualities that make the trio so successful and distinctive, whoever decided to invite him knew what they were doing; the collaboration was very successful. As Sheppard himself has commented, "I knew from the first time I heard the trio play that I would fit right in. I loved the melodic sense and the vibe." Since then, the four have toured Korea and Norway together, before recording this album. All eight tracks on Perfectly Unhappy are new Eriksen compositions written with this collaboration in mind and recorded in two days, in Oslo.
However it came about, the symbiosis between the saxophonist and the trio is truly remarkable. Sheppard sounds as if he has been playing with them for a decade or more; he phrases the compositions' heads in ways that make them fit perfectly with the trio's accompaniment, and his solos feel like natural extensions of the themes. Time and again, the saxophone manages to strike just the plaintive tone needed. Sheppard does not dominate, though; the trio gets space enough to make it clear they are equal partners in the venture. The success of the album is down to all four of them and demonstrates what fine musicians they are.
Sheppard is a busy man, both with his own quartet and in a trio with Steve Swallow and Carla Bley. We must hope that he can negotiate enough time off from those commitments in order to further this collaboration with Espen Eriksen Trio. It would be a great pity if this excellent album turned out to be a one-off. More, please.
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.
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