Sunday, February 27, 2022

Lisa Ullén, Elsa Bergman, Anna Lund - Space (Relative Pitch, 2022) ****½

 By Stef Gijssels

Ever since I heard the duo of Swedish pianist Lisa Ullén and bassist Nina De Heney on "Carve", I've been a big fan of their music. Despite her talent as a composer and a performer, Ullén's output is relatively limited, and not in proportion to the quality of her work. She received five-star ratings from us for her "Piano Works" and "Hydrozoa", also with De Heney. 

On this album, she teams up with Elsa Bergman on bass and Anna Lund on drums. Bergman and Lund we know from their collaborations with Anna Högberg's Attack - in which Ullén also plays. Bergman has also performed with Ullén, on "Sekvenser och Lager" with the Motståndsorkestern, and she is a member of Fire! Orchestra. The references here are only to demonstrate that this trio album is a culmination of the qualities of their background: seamless interplay, strong versatility, brilliant instrumental skills combined with intensity, power and sensitivity. 

The album was recorded during the pandemic, at the Fylkingen venue in Stockholm, and the music sounds like a sonic release from lockdown, a true joy from beginning to end. 

The first three tracks have titles that suggest closeness and human warmth ("Come Together", "The Circle of Security", "Joint Attention"). The first is an intense almost boppish workout with high intensity and fireworks from Lund driving forward the swirling piano. The second starts more quietly and tender, with some muted strings on the piano, subtle bass work and accentuating percussive tinges. Ullén builds up the improvisation elegantly, weaving repetitive and shifting patterns into ever more expansive sonic generosity and unexpected turns. The third piece is structured around a heavy single chord, almost hammered, a hypnotic foundation for bass and drums to work around, after which the piece completely shifts into a very quiet, peaceful almost silent interaction. 

"Tempest" starts calmly, with an almost romantic quality, where it not for Ullén's capacity for unusual intervals, but as you might have guessed, this is just the calm before the storm. Intensity and volume grow, compelling, gripping, entrancing. The album ends with "Core", introduced by Bergman, and like the first track, evolving into the perfect freedom of what a jazz piano trio could sound like: unleashed, nervous, disciplined, listening and full of energy. 

Listen and download from Bandcamp

The short video below will make you want to hear more (recorded at Burning Ambulance concert). 

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