Its slice of Manilow magic is just one highlight on this ice-cool instrumental set.
Spencer Grady 2012
It’s inevitable, but Espen Eriksen’s trio will draw comparisons to other Scandinavian groups operating with the same piano-led formation.
But unlike, say, the showier work of Tord Gustavsen, or the more classically-minded material of the late Esbjörn Svensson, this album forgoes deviations into lengthy abstraction, confused experimentalism and bouts of self-satisfied grandstanding to centre on its hubs of melodious melancholy.
The results are even more stunning than those found on 2010’s impressive debut, You Had Me at Goodbye. Producer Jan Erik Kongshaug must surely take some of the credit: the clarity of his recording picks out the subtle shifts in dynamics as the rhythm section of bassist Lars Tormod Jenset and drummer Andreas Bye underpin the tender slow-cooked lyricism of their leader’s delicately keyed figures.
The trio’s euphonious devotion is encapsulated by two covers included here. While the choice of Terry Britten and Graham Lyle’s We Don’t Need Another Hero (made famous by Tina Turner during her Mad Max days) and Barry Manilow’s Chopin-quoting smash Could It Be Magic may initially seem like ill-considered attempts at irony, they reveal a beauty that’s far from gimmicky.
Indeed, Eriksen and company have managed the same transformative trick as Mark Kozelek, when the ex-Red House Painter took a clutch of AC/DC rockers and transformed them into sentimental paeans to the heart. In this case, the grand gestures of the originals are humbled, made vulnerable and, as such, rendered more loveable.
Millions of miles from the wasteland scenarios of the post-apocalyptic world, the interplay of Eriksen and Jenset on the Thunderdome hit conjures images of sunshine strolls in blossom-scattered parks. Each note offers a plea for peace and opens up spaces for pantheist wonder.
What Took You So Long is a wonderfully plaintive jazz record, abandoned to the lost art of melodic minimalism, stripped back and beautifully near bare. No smoke and mirrors, just the graceful chemistry of superb musicians at the top of their game.