Artist Press Vol. 12 > Feature: Norway Jazz Week

Beady Belle
: Show Review Interview
Helge Lien Trio: Show Review Interview
Bodil Niska
: Show Review Interview


Helge Lien Trio
May 28, 2003 at JZ Brat, Shibuya, Tokyo

"Take Five" takes another shape in the depth of creativity by the 3 men jazz orchstra: fine mixture of contemporary chamber music and progressive jazz presented by Helge Lien Trio.

Official Site: http://www.helgelientrio.com

Helge Lien Inteerview

The second in the live show report series for the Norwegian Jazz Week, sponsored by the Royal Norweigian Embassy and in part supported by the Norwegian Seafood Export Council, featured Helge Lien Trio, led by pianist/composer Helge Lien. The three members all have classical backgrounds, which may be the reason that their performance crosses between contemporary chamber music and jazz as heard on their 2002 album "Spiral Circle", as well as the debut album from 2001 "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life". The venue for this show was "Jz Brat" in Shibuya Cerulean Tower. A cozy sized "jazz bar" offering roomy seating for the audience, and the large video screen behind the bar projected live images of the stage for those seated behind the good-sized center pillar.

Helge and company came on stage and started off with strikingly energetic piano chords of "Speak No Evil". The bass and the drums came in with interlocking rhythms to the piano, which exemplifies the formation of this band: unlike a conventional piano trio where the piano is the prominent instrument, and the bass and drums are accompanying rhythm section, Helge Lien Trio takes a form of three instruments chasing and interlocking with each other as each being the main instrument but switching roles as the music evolves.

"Quite a Small Circle" was led off by quiet piano lines and the drummer Knut Aalefjaer on the percussion added some humorous taste. The bassist Frode Berg played melodies including counterpount melodies. At first it sounded as if the three musicians were playing different tunes but later it all came to make sense as an intricately woven orchestration. When the drum beat came in a refreshing groove kicked in. The bass solo was dynamic enough to exploit the entire space on the fretboard.


Following a brief band introduction, "Hypotek" started with "prepared" piano sound where piano strings were muted by hand. The piano and drums made a free form percussion ensemble. Then as the bass and piano created slow rhythms, percussion went on adding fine contours to the music. A nice bass solo followed: starting out rather subdued, Frode demonstrated his mastery on the instrument. As his left hand plucks open strings to make bouncy rhythm, he plays the melody with the bow. Also he uses spiccato, bouncing off the bow on the strings, furthering on rhythmical expeditions. As the song moves on, the avant-garde atomosphere morphs into slow flowing relaxed rhythm inthe vein of ECM label artists.

The album title song "Spiral Circle " started off with classical phrase and harmony. The bass was again played in counterpoint. The drummer added scattered percussions. As the quiet soundscape embraced the venue the melodies played on the bass and piano crossed each other. The trio featured the piano and the bass, with the percussion taking a support role. Helge showed an exquisite touch on the piano, adding dynamics to the music.

"Beneath it All" started off with an intricate harmonic structure on piano reminding of Paul Hindemith, then developed into an aggressive free improvisation in the vein of the famed Japanese jazz pianist Yosuke Yamashita. As Helge had said in this interview before the show his intuitive approach to spontaneous compositioning was nothing short of breathtaking. In the midst of cacophony of piano chords the bass and the drums gradually revealed the structure of the tune. In the middle section the tune developed into an urban jazz, which was quite noteworthy in the context of transforming free jazz into a standard jazz structure. Featuring drum solo, the tune went back to free form jamming: Helge with mineral water bottle directly on the piano strings added unusual resonance; Knut in the heat of percussion madness threw a cymbal onto the floor! After the show, when asked about the resembrance of the performance to a scene from the movie "Bird" (Forest Whitaker as Charlie Parker), Knut replied "Ah, yes I remember that, but that wasn't a happy scene...". He seemed to have gone through jazz in films as well.

At the clashing sound of the cymbal on the floor Helge started taking the famous riff of "Take Five". According to Dave Brubeck on his November 1996 liner notes to a "Time Out" reissue, "Paul Desmond once said of "Take Five," it was never supposed to be a hit. It was supposed to be a Joe Morello drum solo." In this context, tonight's performance truthfully represented the idea behind this popular tune better than any others.

As Knut's drums played by hands intensified Helge and Frode continued on the piano and the bass to support the percussive exploration. When Knut picked up his drum sticks, the whole band met in the air to a perfect swing. Frode on the bass also performed an outstanding solo with slides and taps, as well as the open string plucking along with the bowing. His right hand touch was quite something as he played fast notes on the high finger board, while the piano took the bass part. The band as a whole came in again to the refrain to finish off the stage. There should be very few "Take Five" performances more exciting than this one if any at all.

Standing ovation from the audience brought back the band on stage. A beautiful ballad was led off on the piano and glistening bass sound came in, topped off by subtle sparkles of the drum set. The drums in this band had more of a percussion part than the usual rhythm maker. A nice touch was heard overall, quite uniquely nordic, to end in a breath taking beauty which captured the audience motionless untill the last echo of the piano note faded in the air.

Jazz in the Nordic countries, being away from America both geographically and culturally, often take the color of classical chamber music. This band is probably the most prominent in the style, where there's more element of it, as if the band evolved from a classical chamber music ensamble. After the show when given a comment to the effect of "that 's the way 'Take Five' should be played", Helge Lien lit up his face in delight and gave assertive "yes!". He is a wonderful musician with passion to achieve his own ideal in the creation of new landscape of jazz.

Special Norwegian salmon dishes served at the venue

Helge Lien(Piano)
Frode Berg(Bass)
Knut Aalefjaer(Drums)

<Set List>
1. Speak No Evil (Wayne Shorter)
2. Quite a Small Circle (Lien)
3. Hypotek (Lien)
4. Spiral Circle (Lien)
5. Beneath it All(Gary Anderson)
6. Take Five (Paul Desmond)
7. Quiet Now (Denny Zeitlin)

Helge Lien Interview

Q: You've been playing for two days in Japan by now. How do you feel about playing in Japan?

HL: I think it's great to be playing in Japan. Very good audience here. I find Japanese audience very good listeners, very open to our energy. Also, there's great food, friendly people, so I am having a great time.

Q: That's excellent. I'd like to ask you some questions about "Spiral Circle". My first impression on this album was that you bring such a beautiful sound out of the piano.

H: Thank youcARIGATO.

Q: When you play the piano, what do you have in your mind?

HL: I focus on my presence, being here right now. I try to tell a story. Each tune I play, I want to let it be one thing, it starts and evolves and becomes one complete unit.

Q: What is the make of the piano you played on this album?

HL: Steinway. It's a famous piano at the Rainbow Studio in Oslo. One of the most used studios for ECM recordings. This piano is really excellent. Also there's excellent tuner who tunes the piano very well, that's also important.

Q: You truly bring the best out of the piano.

HL: Thank you, I'm very glad to hear that. I also use a little bit of technique of muting strings with my hands and other different effects to make extra sounds out of the piano.

Q: You mute the strings as you play?

HL: Yes, that's what I do.

Q: Are we going to hear a bit of that tonight?

HL: Yes, I definitely.

Q: This album has lots of unconventional styles of arrangement. What is the concept behind the album?

HL: Of course the concept is very much based on the music that I write, because a lot of the material is my compositions. When I compose, in a way I receive the music that is suddenly there and there comes a composition and then I rehearse with the band, so it's very intuitive composition. We often play different versions each time we play. we like to be totally open when we start to play and let the music evolve in different directions. So this album is a version created there by improvisation between the musicians.

Q: Would you like to tell us about other members?

HL: Yes, Knut, the drummer, is a very unique drummer. He plays the drums as both drums and percussion. He is a classically trained drummer and also plays classical music and a lot of contemporary music for drums. That gives him a huge spectrum of ideas to work with for different kinds of music. Frode Berg, the bass player, is also a classically educated player and he has very good technique and very creative way of playing. He is also good at playing with the bow. Both musicians are very creative and contributed very much to the result of this album. The concept of my trio is to have three of us work as one, not as two people accompanying the other player. The roles can be switched during performance.

Q: Now I'm very much looking forward to your performance.

HL: We now played one set already, and for the second we'll play some of the tunes from the CD as well as some tunes that will be recorded for the next album. So you will hear some totally new tunes also. Our next album by the way will be recorded next week. It will also be released by DIW.

Q: What is the make of the piano you are playing today?

HL: It's KAWAI. It's a rather good piano. It's quite soft and sensitive, I like it. This place is very good, a unique place. Very glad to be here to perform.

Q: Good luck!

HL: Thank you!

Report by Tatsuro Ueda
Interview by Asako Matsuzaka
Photography by Asako Matsuzaka(Performance), Yoko Ueda(Interview)
Translation by Tatsuro Ueda
Edit by Asako Matsuzaka
Many thanks to
Royal Norwegian Embassy, Cosmo Public Relations, Disk Union,
JZ Brat

Copyright (C) 2003 Global Artist Network. All rights reserved.