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Album Review

Johnsen / Sahlander / Moen: Second Time's The Charm

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Johnsen / Sahlander / Moen: Second Time's The Charm
Bernt Moen's second trio strike with bassist Fredrik Sahlander and drummer Geir Åge Johnsen is a balanced set of a few atmospheric Moen originals and well-known standards. Like on predecessor 1+1=3 (Losen Records, 2020), Second Time's The Charm sees the players interpret standards loosely, adding modern influences and physical interplay to popular melodies that sometimes venture beyond recognition.

In the past Moen spent the vast majority of his time playing keyboard in metal acts such as Green Carnation, Blood Red Thorne or Trail of Tears. On Solopiano Vol.1 (BAM Records, 2011) and Solopiano Vol. 2 (BAM Records, 2011), the Norwegian pianist's self-produced debut and sophomore efforts as a leader, he introduced listeners to a virtuoso and substantially more dynamic side of his musical world—integrating jazz influences, among many others, to his oeuvre for the first time. The trio stint Closure (Bam Records), featuring Sahlander and Trygve Tambs-Lychè, followed in the same year, sparking an exciting turn in the pianist's discography. While his metal days may seem behind him, the genre's unapologetic and hard-hitting approach tends to echo in Moen's compositions and his various formations' physical interplay—even if ever so slightly.

Back to the present album, where Moen's "The Intro" goes into the record dashingly, flying fingers dancing across the keys to fretless bass maneuvers and loud cymbal rain—seeing the pianist hunting for scales while his sidemen create tension. In his liner notes, Moen defends the ironic title: "Well, for me, it is always a struggle to name my compositions, but in this case, it was easy. It's the intro." The other Moen-penned cuts conform to the opener's minimal approach. "The Scenes" is built around a chord vamp grounded in a straight drum part not unlike those found in alternative rock bands, while Moen's sparse left-hand root-note movements reverberate with an effect reminiscent of the piano on Massive Attack's Mezzanine (Circa/Virgin records, 1998)—recalling the British trip hop group's international hit "Teardrop."

The standard renditions however are the highlights on the record. Borrowing its groove from funk-infused repertoire along the lines of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters (Columbia Records, 1973) and smoothening out the harmonic structure to a single linear frame, Chuck Wayne's "Solar," famously interpreted by Miles Davis, is pretty much unrecognizable until the very end, when the last couple of bars introduce the standard's head for the first and only time. Here, the group interplay is at its most loose, almost whimsical, and sees the trio indulging its inner jam band. Elsewhere, the three add lick-based punch to old favorites, swapping out the improvisatory nature of changes with theme-based extensions, as heard on "Autumn leaves." John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" is treated to a similar fate as "Solar"—swapping out the song's harmonic complexity with groove from which an impressively constructed piano solo gathers drive. This recipe works for a while, but ultimately the original's core and spark seem to get lost in translation—the "be" in "bebop" turning into "was."

This trio's second effort rings true to its title and delivers another intriguing package of modern standard interpretations. Occasionally Moen's own compositions appear slightly apart in the context of the set, but then the next unorthodox take on a standard will overturn that notion and make for another sonic surprise.

Track Listing

The Intro; Solar; A Foggy Day; Bemsha Swing; The Scenes; Autumn Leaves; Giant Steps; The Ballad.

Personnel

Bernt Moen: piano; Fredrik Sahlander: bass; Geir Åge Johnsen: drums.

Album information

Title: Second Time's The Charm | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Losen Records

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