Espen Berg Trio ‘Bølge’ 2LP/CD (Odin) 4/5

Question: when is an ECM album not an ECM album? When it has been recorded at the Rainbow studios in Oslo engineered by Jan Erik Koigshaug, recording a Scandinavian trio and with a deeply evocative cover photo. One could easily be mistaken for thinking that this is on the revered label, and yet it is in fact on the independent Odin one. Young leader and pianist Espen Berg has distinguished himself as a solo artist with two solo piano albums to date, yet it is this second recording of the trio that he regularly works with which is the focus of attention here. The music is trimmed down to its absolute essence, with the pieces never longer than between three and seven minutes, and that is a definite plus in this writer’s book.

Building on the well received (in Scandinavia and Japan at least) first recording from 2015, ‘Mønster’, the trio have toured extensively in Japan, gaining useful live experience collectively and this new album certainly indicates a well honed outfit on this all-original but one set. The one cover opens up the album, ‘Hounds of Winter’, by Sting, and has a lovely simplicity to the interpretation, and that observation can easily be extended to the recording as a whole which has an impressive organic progression, with the subtle use of percussion by drummer, Simon Olderskog Albertsen. Faroe Islander, Bárður Reinert Poulsen rounds off the young band of musicians. A real favourite is the attractively themed ‘Bridges’, with fine ensemble work, and an empathetic rapport between pianist and bassist.

If one had to cite any influences upon Berg the pianist, then it would probably be both Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau but by no means a bad place to start. Gentle, reposing themes are Berg’s trademark as a composer, no more so than on the title track itself. Elsewhere, an inventive use of percussion with hand claps included is a feature of ‘XIII’, which is another piece that flows beautifully. There is, on several numbers, a quite deliberate connection between the music and mathematics insofar as Berg doubles up his musical duties with that of an academic in the field of numbers. The link is most evident on a piece such as ‘Maetrix’. Impressionistic, dream-like pieces are a hallmark of this trio and these are further illustrated on ‘For Now’ and ‘Tredje’. A fine introduction to yet another piano trio, but one that has a most promising future ahead of them.

Live dates throughout July in Estonia, Spain and Norway.

Tim Stenhouse