Features/Interviews (PP)

Espen Eriksen Trio (UK tour dates in October and November)

The Espen Eriksen Trio – pianist Eriksen, bassist Lars Tormod Jenset and drummer Andreas Bye – have been together for fifteen years and recently released their first live album, “In the Mountains”. Ahead of upcoming UK dates, Espen Eriksen spoke from his home in Oslo about the trio, their music and their collaboration with saxophonist Andy Sheppard, who will be playing on six of the UK dates. Interview by Bruce Lindsay:

Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard
Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard. Vossa Jazz. Photo credit: Olav Aga

What’s the secret to the longevity of the Espen Eriksen Trio? ‘Quite early on, when we started playing, we found some common ground,’ says Eriksen. ‘Some of that has to do with my melodies, which are quite minimalistic. We decided to let the melodies shine and not add elements that conflict with a clear-cut expression. We had a common understanding of what we wanted to do. I think we opened up the tradition, by allowing elements of other genres besides jazz – pop, rock, classical, folk – but also limited it by avoiding jazz mannerisms we felt didn’t fit our sound. It has a lot to do with being true to your own preferences instead of doing what “everybody else” is doing. We can create our own playground, so to speak, instead of copying our idols, hopefully create something original.’

According to Eriksen, the trio’s members share a work ethic, in terms of career building. ‘Slowly, but surely. I think that has paid off. We’re getting more interest, more gigs at better venues and festivals, more streams [End of Summer has over one million streams on Spotify] and higher record sales. In Norway we have this phrase, “Lay brick on brick.” Equally important is our egalitarian structure. I write the tunes, but I don’t tell the others how to play their instruments. It’s an environment where you can thrive as a musician.’ Eriksen, Lars Tormod Jenset and Andreas Bye all have other projects but, says Eriksen, ‘the trio is the main focus for all three of us.’

Andy Sheppard joins the trio for six UK dates, plus four more in Norway later this year. The collaboration arose from the 2013 Nattjazz Festival in Bergen, when Sheppard was working with Bergen Big Band and came to the trio’s concert by chance. ‘The band’s leader sent me a message to tell me how Andy liked the music and could easily see himself playing with us. I thought “Wow! That’s great, he’s kinda famous!” Three years later, before a UK tour, I messaged him asking if he wanted to play with us at Pizza Express. We had no more than an hour’s rehearsal but from the first note he fitted perfectly into our music and we also hit it off socially. He’s got a very good sense of humour and during the first of two concerts he was a little late coming in with the melody, so he said “Hey, Espen, am I fired now?” We decided we had to work together and I wrote the music for our first studio album together, Perfectly Unhappy, which was released in 2018.’

The four musicians have played regularly since then and as a result, says Eriksen, ‘We feel like two bands, the trio and the quartet. It’s great to play with Andy! I feel his tone and phrasing are perfect for my melodies and he also has this unique ability to shift between a European lyrical sensibility and hardcore American post-bop jazz chops – he can kick our asses and get us going!’

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In the Mountains contains live recordings from Oslo and Poznan and arose partly in response to fans’ requests for a record showing the differences between the band’s studio work and their concert performances, and partly due to their label’s boss. ‘After releasing End of Summer, which is a trio album,’ Eriksen explains, ‘I thought the next album should be a quartet one, a studio album, but Rune Kristoffersen [head of the Rune Grammofon label] asked for a live album instead. I was a bit sceptical at first, but after listening to a lot of our concert recordings, I was convinced this was the right thing to do, to release an album that shows another side of our playing – the full live experience with stretched out songs, more embellishment and higher temperatures.’

There’s a distinctive ‘live’ feel to the album, but unlike many live albums audience applause only follows the final song. ‘We used a lot of microphones to capture the feel of the room so you can sense the audience’s presence and we felt that was enough. I think that lengthy applause after each track just gets annoying.’

For this UK tour the trio will mix old and new material, playing music from Perfectly Unhappy and In the Mountains and some of the music they will record for their next album with Sheppard in January. This album will be on Rune Grammofon, which has released all of the trio’s previous six albums. ‘I love being on the label, it’s based in Oslo. Rune Kristoffersen picks up the phone when I call and responds to messages and emails, he’s there for his artists, very down to earth.’

The tour will encompass large and small venues across England and Scotland. ‘I like different sized venues, they’re different experiences and you can learn from each. For example, the Blue Lamp in Aberdeen: there’s something about the acoustics in that room, it’s fantastic.’

Before returning to the UK, the trio travel to South Korea. It’s their sixth visit to the country and they’ll be playing a large outdoor festival as well as club dates. The trio have played in Malaysia and Indonesia and Eriksen hopes they will soon play in China. One particular aspect of playing in Asia stands out for Eriksen: ‘The audiences are very young, people in their twenties going wild. They’re very appreciative.’

UK audiences are also appreciative of the band. ‘The UK is the place where we’ve probably had most attention. We always get lots of reviews and it’s kind of an honour that all but one of our records has been reviewed by the BBC. Since we’ve started playing with Andy it makes even more sense to play in the UK.’

The next album, as yet untitled, is due for release on 6 October 2023 on CD and vinyl.

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LINKS: Espen Eriksen Trio website


Mon, 10 OCT
Espen Eriksen Trio with Andy Sheppard at Ronnie Scott’s – BOOKINGS

Wed, 12 OCT
Espen Eriksen Trio at Soundhouse at The Traverse, Edinburgh – BOOKINGS

Fri, 14 OCT
Espen Eriksen Trio at Stapleford Granary, Cambridge – BOOKINGS


Tue, 22 NOV Watermill Jazz, Dorking
Wed, 23 NOV Band On The Wall, Manchester
Thu, 24 NOV The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
Fri, 25 NOV Playhouse, Sheffield
Sat, 26 NOV Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

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