Looking back at the first 20 years of the Helge Lien Trio, it’s hard not to be struck by the pianist’s sure-footed evolution. Starting out as a talented post-Evans stylist, Lien’s focus has shifted from cleverly deconstructed standards to original material performed by a trio with a strong collective identity. A revolving cast of collaborators including Frode Berg, Mats Eilertsen and Per Oddvar Johansen has helped him along the way, and as HLT enters its third decade Lien now goes back to the future with a brand new formation.
In what is essentially a collection of reinvented pieces from the back catalogue, original drummer Knut Aalefjær returns after a seven-year absence, and the vastly experienced Johannes Eick, elder brother of ECM trumpet star Mathias, takes over the bass chair.
All of the material will be familiar to long-term fans, and it’s difficult to argue with any of Lien’s selections. Only 2006’s covers set To The Little Radio is not represented, and despite the record being recorded at two sessions in 2020, the first in an Oslo studio and the second live in Hamar, Hans-Jörg Maucksch’s clever mastering strikes a seamless balance between real-time spontaneity and studio sheen.
Appropriately enough Revisited opens with a piece from HLT’s 2001’s debut What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life. Whereas the relatively stiff original fused Bachian counterpoint and easy lyricism, this new reading is almost a free ballad. Liten Jazzballong and Spiral Circle keep the tempo low, the trio’s groovier post-E.S.T. leanings not surfacing until Gamut Warning from 2008’s Hello Troll, a veritable tour de force of pliant invention.
The keening Svenssonesque melodies of Krystall are a further reminder of HLT’s probable status as heirs apparent to E.S.T., while a hypnotic reading of Jasmine from 2017’s Guzuguzu unfolds with the supreme poise and finesse of a Jarrett or a Mehldau. Underscoring Lien’s credentials as a genuine contender, this trio can go toe-to-toe with very best.
If you’re new to Lien’s music then Revisited is a great place to start. For those who have been around a little longer, its subtle brand of musical revisionism should both delight and intrigue.
Hymne; Liten Jazzballong; Spiral Circle; Gamut Warning; Meles Meles; Folkmost; Jasmine; Krystall; Nipa (51.00)
Lien (p) with Johannes Eick (b); Knut Aalefjær (d). Oslo and Hamar, Norway, 31 March and 3 October 2020.
Ozella Music OZ101CD