Bobo Stenson Trio – Sphere
(ECM 2775. Album review by Patrick Hadfield)
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Swedish pianist Bobo Stenson (b.1944) has had a long, illustrious career at the forefront of the vibrant Nordic jazz scene; his trio with Anders Jormin on bass and percussionist Jon Fält has been active since the 1980s.
Their long experience together is evident on this record. A collection of originals together with arrangements of classical and Scandinavian folk pieces, much of the music has an abstract, impressionistic feel. The musicians leave a lot of space in the music, making much of it thoughtful and meditative. The gaps between the notes count for a lot. This requires a great deal of confidence between the musicians, honed over the decades.
The result at times feels refreshingly minimal, as if the musicians are simply nudging the notes along. The first three pieces on the record – Du skal plante et træ (you shall plant a tree), Unquestioned Answer, and Spring – elide into each other, almost as if they are three movements of a suite, despite having three different composers. Unquestioned Answer is Jormin’s tribute – or perhaps a polite riposte – to American modernist composer Charles Ives.
There are times when the trio perform in a more typical piano trio style, albeit that of a superlative piano trio. Jormin’s arrangement of Jung-Hee Woo’s The Red Flower, and his own piece Kingdom of Coldness both have a relaxed, easy swing.
The arrangement (or perhaps deconstruction might be more appropriate) of Jean Sibelius’s piano piece’ Valsette Opus 40/1 is one of the more abstract, spacey pieces, with shimmering cymbal work and eerie bowed bass. Fält’s brushes barely hint at the beat. Stenson’s piano sounds solemn at first, before picking up the lead.
The album finishes with another version of Per Nørgård’s choral work Du skal plante et træ. There are changes in the emphasis: parts feel more abstract, the percussion more impressionistic. The effect is to bring one back to the start of the record , but in a way that is changed by what has happened in between.
Buy Sphere – release date 17 March 2023