Christian Balvig, Frederik Bülow, Adrian Christensen – Associated with Water
(AMP Music & Records AT015. CD review by Adrian Pallant)
The beguiling, reflective sleeve imagery of Associated with Water – the debut album from pianist Christian Balvig, drummer Frederik Bülow and bassist Adrian Christensen – offers something of a visual prelude to music of distinction by this Nordic piano trio.
Having come together five years ago to explore (between other projects) jazz and improvisation, the ensemble’s original compositions and explorations speak of emotional placidity, stimulating momentum and technical clarity, often imbued with natural, elegant rubato. Subtler passages might summon comparisons with Giovanni Guidi or Tord Gustavsen, but their approach frequently possesses the Balkan spark of, say, the Alboran Trio – an ever-present thread of unpredictability which means each relatively brief episode babbles and tumbles with fresh ideas. In fact, such succinctness in these 11 tracks (written individually by each of the three players) might have us wanting more, were it not for their carefully overarching fluidity described as “swimming in a stream of thoughts”.
The trio’s faint wireframes provide tangible order, as in the percussive, Phronesis-like bustle of Disturbingly Pure; but then Balvig pianistically disperses melodic elements across the rhythm, creating an imaginative sense of aqueous suspension. Similarly, fidgety Mirror Neurons abruptly segues into a dreamlike sequence whose tempo fades into serenity; and Fictitious Conversations teems with sparkling, high-piano ostinati across its bass swell.
Together, Balvig, Bülow and Christensen surround this accessible music with intriguing, enigmatic mystery – perhaps it’s the shared deftness of touch which allows their creativity to eddy and dart, only sporadically tracing the same route. In Undine, the spirits seemingly dance around and descend a whirlpool of rapid, chromatic broken piano chords and hollow drum circles; The Contortionist gracefully unfolds its themes around languid bass-and-drum cross-rhythms; and the spacial, softly-malleted source of title track Associated with Water seems to gush onwards, tributarily, gradually widening to Bülow’s keen, persistent brushes.
Despite so many fluctuating rivulets, there are also memorable riffs such as jabbing, Ivo Neame-styled phrases in Bulgaria and the darker, push-pull questioning of Gerdesia; while the fervent pulse of Surfacing might easily portray the triumphal, white-water emergence of a diver. Swedish‘s hymn-like grandeur gently recalls e.s.t., and the bright charm of Play Big or Small holds to the light this trio’s remarkable balance as bassist and drummer support a coruscating stream of Debussy-hued improvisations from Balvig’s piano.
A line from the album art, referring to extracting “the pure potential out of the liquid you came from”, might metaphorically represent this coalescent artistry – a classic piano trio, yet with their own purpose, identity and sound… which is certainly worth experiencing.
Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site ap-reviews.com