Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard ‘Perfectly Unhappy’ LP/CD (Rune Grammofon) 4/5

British saxophonist Andy Sheppard first teamed up with the Norwegian based Espen Eriksen Trio a couple of years back, touring Korea and Norway. And so one imagines a studio album must have been on the cards for some time now. Those familiar with Sheppard’s recent ECM recordings will be accustomed with the saxophonist’s more laid-back offerings of late, and this session certainly fits nicely into that mould. Not that that’s a bad thing by any means, “Perfectly Unhappy” being a quite sumptuously exquisite album in many ways.

Espen Eriksen’s trio has been touring and recording for ten years now, with Eriksen on piano, Andreas Bye on drums and Lars Tormod Jenset on bass, they combine with an assured cohesiveness that makes it all sound so easy. Graceful and melodic, their music exemplifies that Nordic jazz/folk thing that takes the listener on a wonderful journey across mountains and fjords and back again.

The music on “Perfectly Unhappy” may not break any new boundaries, but it’s just so well written and performed that listening is made easy and rewarding. The addition to the trio of Andy Sheppard is reminiscent in style and mood to that of another recent piano trio plus sax recording, by another of my favourite piano trios, Marcin Wasilewski Trio. The Polish outfit’s ECM album “Spark of Life” features Norwegian saxophonist Joakim Milder, and the results are very similar, with this listener taken away on a musical Nordic breeze to a land of serenity and peacefulness.

The album’s opener, “Above The Horizon”, sets the tone perfectly for what is to come, with Sheppard and Eriksen taking turns to pick out the melody and go with the flow. On tunes such as “Indian Summer” and Naked Trees”, it is Sheppard’s smokey, breathy, free-flowing sax that is more to the fore, whereas on “1974″ and “Revisited” it is the beauty of Eriksen and co that shine a guiding light for Sheppard to follow. And when the foursome combine in perfect harmony, as on the closing track “Home”, one simply has to sit back, admire, and enjoy.

An album of simple delights then, and one I shall return to time and time again when I need a little bit of calm and serenity. Here at UK Vibe we don’t do things by halves, but if we did, I’d rate “Perfectly Unhappy” as a four and a half.

Mike Gates