That there are still musical surprises left in the world is a wonderful thing. Who would have guessed Elton John performing with Lady Gaga or Elton John performing with Eminem, but both occurred. Add to this list of improbables a serious jazz CD from a Norwegian pianist and his trio that opens with a groove oriented track. That, however, is precisely how Helge Lien’s new CD Hello Troll opens.
On top of Knut Aalefjaer’s grooving beats and Frode Berg’s hip bassline, "Gamut Warning" sounds like something out of a 1970s Herbie Hancock influenced fusion daydream. On top of this, Lien plays slow building lines that are outside of the underlying context, yet reverberate within the harmonic ostinato, forming a composition that shifts time and emotion in a subtle manner. That, of course, is a trademark of Norwegian jazz. Lien gets there in his own unique manner sets the listener up for one of the best jazz piano trio recordings to be released in the last few years.
Working beyond E.S.T., the best working jazz piano trio of the last 10 years, and The Bad Plus, Lien’s nine compositions all explore the connection between sentiment and emotional stability. His free improvisational prowess is at the heart of "Radio." Playing out of time and amid the lovely cymbal work of Aalejaer, Lien weaves a fabric of sweeping melodic lines that move forward so gently it’s easy to get lost in their strands, missing the big picture. "Troozee," with more elements of basso ostinato, combines solid straight-ahead jazz playing with Chick Corea-inspired turns of phrase that move of their own volition and, more importantly, in their own time frame.
The introspectiveness of "Diverted Dance’s" piano cadenzaish opening contrasts well with the long, extended bass figurations that follow. Aalefjaer’s brush work is so perfectly built underneath the unison of piano and bass, one can’t help but be reminded of Bill Evans’ own seminal trio work, which exhibited so many of the same characteristics. The concluding "In The Wind Somewhere" beautifully rounds out the CD.
With piano taking the ostinato lines and Berg’s lovely melodic statements set within, the track encapsulates the voyage made from first to last track. When Lien breaks out into his own statements they radiate such warmth and beauty one can’t help but be moved. Just as with much of Miles Davis’ mid-career work, where one didn’t know where improvisation began and melody ended, Lien performs the same high wire act with an equal amount of panache and subtlety. This disc is a must for serious jazz aficionados.