Espen Eriksen Trio & Andy Sheppard: As Good As It Gets

Guest saxophonist Andy Sheppard lightens the signature solemnity honed over many years by pianist Eriksen's trio

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The Espen Eriksen Trio was formed in 2007 and is now on its seventh album, all released on Rune Grammofon. When saxophonist Andy Sheppard heard the trio, he loved their melodic sense and knew immediately that he would fit in well, first performing with the trio in London in 2016. This is his second studio appearance with the group, following on from 2018’s Perfectly Unhappy; he also appeared on three tracks on the live In The Mountains set of 2022.

This new collaborative album is opportunistically titled, reflecting the sunnier mood of the music, its livelier rhythms, its uplifting attitude. But that light mood comes at a price, for the usually introspective and inward-looking approach of the trio – a group whose members always give each other plenty of space to breathe – has now been crowded out by the addition of an easygoing, rather two-dimensional Sheppard. His sound remains distinct but his efforts here largely overshadow the acquired solemnity of the unadorned trio.

The opening Other Side Of Melancholy drifts towards easy listening, the saxophone gliding effortlessly through the theme, while Endless superficially impresses for its delicate melody but Sheppard remains overly simplistic, leader Erisken rescuing the piece with a fine, thoughtful solo. The title track deceives in its inherent complexities, while Sticks And Stones ups the tempo to little effect. Only with Pressure does the added voice brings results, Sheppard rising well to the occasion.

Bassist Lars Tormod Jenset is at his eloquent best on the sparsely voiced The American and the resonant Drifting Clouds, drummer Andreas Bye consistently quiet and effective throughout in support, but again their input is diminished by the quartet format.  As a result, this is the sort of music that easily glides by, but unfortunately, repeated hearings bring few rewards. As Good As It Gets is, I assume, ironically named.


Discography
The Other Side Of Melancholy; Endless; As Good As It Gets; Sticks And Stones; Pressure; The American; Drifting Clouds (39.12)
Eriksen (p); Sheppard (ts); Lars Tormod Jenset (b); Andreas Bye (d). Possibly Norway, 2022.
Rune Grammofon RCD 2233