Review: Espen Bjarnar’s Esp – Ambiguous Play – released March 2013

The Norwegian jazz scene is vibrant, confident, accessible and great to listen to. So an album by a quintet called Esp led by Trondheim guitarist, Espen Bjarnar, is worthy of our attention. Ambiguous Play is Esp’s debut album on Øra Fonogram and consists of six very assured, individually different, tracks. The band started out as Espen’s Master’s project several years ago but has fledged into a mature outfit of great sensitivity and imagination. The project was to explore how ambiguity can be expressed in music but there is nothing ambiguous about the deftness of touch here, it feels and sounds absolutely right. So whether they are exploring the moment or musing on eternity as in Hmm, Esp create memorable pictures in sound. Each track has many layers, like translucent silk, they slide over each other and create many different shades.

There are some very definite moods – in the beautiful opening track, Hmm.., all the instruments intertwine in a gentle, rather sad, slow dance. Upbeat Møllenberg is particularly catchy, reminding me a little of Steely Dan. Møllenberg is a district of Trondheim, perhaps a hymn to home turf and the life lived there? It’s affectionate anyway, the guitar is picked so nimbly and delicately it really does perform a vocal role on this track, the rhodes sounding like vibes.

In between sadness and hometown fondness we have the eerie Norhug, with haunting sax like a shepherd in a desert, calling lost sheep. Here we are entering the world of ambiguity and anxiety, it ends on a note of uncertainty. Dim takes us into outer space eternity again. Not all the album is contemplative, Messi allows Espen’s guitar free rein. This is an effective foil to the quieter tracks. If you like Troyka, then you will find lots to enjoy in both Dim and Messi.

If you wonder who is a possible heir to Tord Gustavsen then look no further than Arne Torvik for his exquisite introduction to Toogtredve Takter and his birdsong in Hmm.

This is a late night album that is perfect for any time of day! Heartily recommended.

Esp will be performing at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 4 May 2013.


All tracks by Espen Bjarnar except Toogtredve Takter and Møllenberg by Dan Peter Sundland.

Espen Jørgensen Bjarnar – guitar
Arne Torvik – piano & rhodes
Dan Peter Sundland – bass
Tomas Järmyr – drums
John Pål Inderberg – baritone sax on Hmm, Norhug and Dim

Ambiguous Play is available on and iTunes

Review: Marius Neset – Birds – released March 2013

So, just how do you follow up a five star album and rave reviews for your live performances? Well, with another five star album of course. And that’s what Marius Neset has done with Birds, released shortly on Edition Records. If anything, Birds is even more joyous and expansive than Golden Xplosion, the cover photo of a leaping-for-joy Marius does more than hint at his energy and youth, it proclaims that being alive is the most precious thing we all have. There are tracks of exuberance and tracks as delicate as a feather, they fuse and meld creating a very satisfying mix. When you have listened to this album, I dare you not to feel happy and optimistic.

Marius has assembled a super-group – the flawless members of Phronesis plus Jim Hart on vibes. And a supporting crew that includes an accordion, his sister Ingrid (a flute virtuoso) and Daniel Herskedal (recently heard with Marius on Neck of the Woods which I reviewed last year). Marius composed all the compositions, it is through-composed and he knew exactly what it would sound like before it was recorded. Yet each musician sounds himself, nothing is forced or artificial. Maybe it is because they can read each other’s minds?

Bird sounds, motifs and allusions infuse this album from the triumphant and joyous title track to the close. All the rhythms of a bird’s life are here from quiet feeding to noisy roosting. Take the climax to Reprise – you can hear a flock of birds taking off, thousands of flapping wings, then suddenly they are gone. There are birds that sound like parrots or parakeets. Jasper’s bass is a strong, strutting crow in Birds, yet warm in The Place of Welcome alongside Jim’s most delicate vibes. Ivo’s piano is a nightingale’s song at twilight.

The celestial, moving, Math of Mars is like looking into a starry sky, a myriad galaxies stretch out for ever, it is a wonderful near-climax to an album which teems with gems and gently slides into the closing Fanfare with military drum beat and reeds. All the glossy birds line up for a farewell, they trill, preen themselves. whistle, squawk, bicker raucously and show off in glorious colour. It’s fantastic fun and we are so fortunate to eavesdrop on it.

Marius will be touring to promote the album from April onwards. I, for one, will be looking forward to seeing him at Cheltenham Jazz Festival on 3 May 2013, I think it could be my gig of the festival. It is already in my top 5 albums for 2013.

Marius Neset

Marius Neset, tenor and soprano saxophones, and all compositions

Ivo Neame, piano

Jasper Høiby, bass

Anton Eger, drums

Jim Hart, vibes

and many others

Birds is available on Edition Records and other stores