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Helge Lien Trio - Hello Troll - SoundStage

04 May 2009
Rad Bennett
4½ Stars

Jazz is not only alive, but flourishing in Scandinavia. It seems that everywhere I turn these days there's a new group popping up from the north. Often, as is the case with this trio, the group is fresh to US listeners. I came on this recording through a recommendation from my contacts at Linn Records, which picked the title up for its HD download site. The program is also on CD on the Ozella Music label. It is the sixth album by pianist Helge Lien, bass player Frode Berg, and drummer Knut Aalefjaer. All the compositions are by Helge Lien with the treatment of rhythms at times reminiscent of Dave Brubeck, while the lyrical, ruminative drift of the melodies reminds one of Bill Evans.

These are influences, not imitations; I use them merely to give you an idea of the music, which ranges from consonant and lush to dissonant and playful. At times the music is driven by rhythms, crazy rhythms that sound perfectly normal when played by this trio. At other times Lien seems to be taking the group in the direction of cocktail music or New Age, but then he'll pull back the reins just in time to say "gotcha." It's a wonderfully airy sound that has been expertly recorded by the engineers. The bass, plucked or bowed, is solid and balanced -- just right with the piano and drums. The piano tracks sound very three-dimensional and the drumming effects are as clean as a whistle in an overall warm ambience. This sound is so appealing that I felt I could listen for days instead of just minutes. And indeed I have.

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