Nordic people have a reputation for shyness – a product, perhaps, of a Calvinist Protestant tradition that shunned brazenness and ostentation, the freezing temperatures that necessitated taciturnity when outdoors, and the ethnic homogeneity which meant that shared experiences and feelings needed only to be implied rather than said out loud. This natural reticence, nursed in the cold dark winters, seems to permeate much of the jazz produced in Northern Europe.
The current Scandinavian jazz scene seems somewhat overpopulated with piano trios. Most who read this will be aware of the music of the late Esbjörn Svensson Trio (EST) and Tord Gustavsen. There are many others too, of course. However, one pianist who stands out in this crowded field is Søren Bebe.
This is the sixth release from this Danish piano trio and it follows a slightly more melodic path than that of some of their earlier releases which were a little more abstract and impressionistic. The opening, title track, has a folk-like stately feel. Not only do we get to hear the leader’s piano in all its glory but also the double bass of Anders Mogensen and the gently brushed percussion of Kasper Tagel. The deceptive simplicity of the theme statement draws the listener in.
‘Waltz for Steve’ follows and is a sheer delight. A highlight is the feature for double bass, the acoustic instrument adding great depth to the music than the bass guitar which featured on at least one of the groups earlier releases.
Whilst Bebe would agree that there is a specific ‘Nordic sound’ he considers there are many contributing factors, one being the influence of shared folk traditions and the shared landscape of sea and mountains. Bebe states that a lot of care for the details of the music and the sounds that each instrument produces goes into each new release. The famed ECM label started by reflecting the Nordic scene and this influence continues in the music of the Søren Bebe Trio.
Much of the music is introspective and clearly much thought has gone into the individual performances. The album is a slow burner which gradually reveals its beauty and simply gets better with repeated listening. One potential difficulty with this type of understated music is that it may struggle to keep the attention of the listener. However, the music here contains just sufficient fire to hold attention.
In addition to his jazz work, Bebe has amassed a recorded portfolio of music for ballet classes. This project too is well worth investigating. Furthermore, Bebe is a keen student of classical music and also listens to a lot of singer-songwriters and this also infuses his music.
The pianist names Oscar Peterson and Keith Jarrett as influences and interestingly trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. Much of the music has the kind of yearning intensity that characterised Wheeler’s own music. There are several pieces here which one could almost imagine Wheeler playing. The lyrical nature of Bebe’s playing has echoes of the music of Bill Evans. Indeed, one-time Evans bassist Marc Johnson is featured on an earlier trio album.
The ultimate highlight of the album is the trio’s reading of ‘Sospiri, Op.70’ written by Edward Elgar.
Bebe has led his trio for almost twelve years and the musical telepathy of the trio members is clear to hear, almost breathing as one entity. The emphasis is clearly on melody and this is music which is accessible to all, not just a specialised jazz audience.