Recommended: Espen Eriksen & Gunnar Halle – “Psalm”


Espen Eriksen, Gunnar Halle - "Psalm"A lovely new recording is from the duo of pianist Espen Eriksen and trumpeter Gunnar Halle.  On Psalm, the duo reinterpret church songs, focusing them through a lens of Nordic Jazz and then dispersing the identity of the songs through improvisation.

A challenge to reinterpreting old, beloved songs is resisting the pull of nostalgia and the urge to express the song as pictured by memory.  The duo accomplishes this by hanging their hat on the melody and only the melody, using that as their tether to the original material while simultaneously utilizing it as an escape hatch to follow their own creative vision.

This isn’t the first time these two have teamed up and delved into the theme of church music.  2010’s Meditations on Christmas kept to the holiday songbook, and of most relevance, Eriksen and Halle were more direct in their interpretations of the originals, playing them closer to the vest.  It’s a nice change of pace on 2014’s Psalm to hear the duo allowing themselves the license to follow their own creative vision when shaping the psalms into something more expansive.

The solemn notes of “Se, vi går opp til Jerusalem” set the mood, creating a baseline from which to modulate both temperature and tone upward.

For instance, the incremental optimism of “Velt alle dine veie” is the hopefulness of a sun patiently rising above the horizon, signalling a new day and a new opportunity.  On the other hand, “Kirken den er et gammelt hus” is steeped in contemplation, a mere ripple on the surface of the serenity.  Working the middle ground is “Å, for djup i Jesu kjærleik,” for which the instruments sing more than express, focusing on the tangibility of melodic fragments and reducing the reliance on elusive atmospherics.

Of all the tracks, “Noen må våke i verdens natt” is the most effusive, putting itself out there and discarding the distant presence of other album tracks.  Eriksen’s piano broods in its way, but it works to develop a big voice.  A quavering trumpet enters and leaves its flight pattern, Halle weighting the effect of his appearance heavier than the frequency.  The song is a winding path that leads far and away from its opening melody, but just when it seems disappeared forever, the melody pops back into sight as the song reaches its conclusion.

Other songs that lend bits of differentiation to the album are “Vend bort din vreide,” which swells up with an abiding cheerfulness and “Jesus, det eneste,” which sees trumpet stretching out a bit, highlighted by sudden rises and descents.

“O bli hos meg!” ends the album on the same solemn note with which it began.  It’s a closing of the circle that ties the album up with a satisfying sense of cohesion and finality.

Just plain beautiful.

Your album personnel:  Espen Eriksen (piano) and Gunnar Halle (trumpet).

Released on the Grappa label.

In addition to the two artist sites linked to above, the duo has a Facebook page dedicated to the project.

Jazz from the Oslo, Norway scene.

Available at:  eMusic | Amazon MP3