Christian Wallumrød Trio: No Birch (ECM 1628)

No Birch

Christian Wallumrød Trio
No Birch

Christian Wallumrød piano
Arve Henriksen trumpet
Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen percussion
Recorded November 1996 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Of course it hurts when buds burst.
Otherwise why would spring hesitate?
–Karin Boye (trans. Jenny Nunn)

Pianist Christian Wallumrød makes his ECM debut with No Birch, an album of uncompromising melodic integrity and further proof that ECM’s mining of Nordic jazz ore continues to yield sonic jewelry like no other. The press release places the album somewhere between Morton Feldman minimalism and Paul Bley free play, and certainly we can feel a likeminded appreciation for negative space throughout. Yet beyond this lies an active, fluttering heart that is so full of expressivity that it must pace itself in lieu of bursting.


Wallumrød is the youngest member of the group. From humble beginnings playing piano accompaniment at church (hence the reflective track “Before Church”) to intensive studies at Norway’s famous Trondheim Conservatory, where he developed an abiding interest in composition, he has found under producer Manfred Eicher’s purview the appropriate balance of space and atmosphere to open his emotional floodgates.


Freelance trumpeter Arve Henriksen has collaborated with a number of ECM stalwarts, including Jon Balke, Anders Jormin, and the great Misha Alperin, the latter of whom remains a touchstone of inspiration for this trio.


Take special note that Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen is credited as percussionist and not drummer, and you begin to imagine the group’s flavors before note one. Conservatory trained and much sought-after in contemporary jazz and classical scenes, he adds the subtlest edge, his palette elemental in the truest sense.

As a unit, these three friends have been playing since 1996, but what we hear in “She Passes The House Of Her Grandmother” implies generations of affect. Touching its feet to tundra soil as if it were the sun, it is the breath of blood and memory made manifest in the here and now. The unspoken becomes the flower of reality, plucked from the “Royal Garden.” This solo from Sørensen unravels a single cathartic and metallic cry, bowed at the edge of sibilance and time and carried across a landscape that was once pasture, since bordered and named under the banner of rule. It is the pulse of the soil, given light above ground in “Somewhere East,” a representative track that describes its directions only so that we might be aware of the center from which our perspective is realized. So locating us in the moment’s energy, the music sways, rooted. Next is “Travelling” in three parts, and which features some of the most delicate trumpet playing I’ve heard in a long while. Breathy, almost shakuhachi-like, it curls its fingers one at a time around a full glass, which is then tipped and spilled through the veins of “Ballimaran” and “Watering.” In the wake of these flowing sketches, the halting pianism of “Two Waltzing, One Square And Then” and “Fooling Around” cleanses the palette before “The Gardener,” the most somber of the set, refills with bittersweet aperitif.

Wallumrød’s “The Birch” is the album’s red thread, a four-tiered refrain that wipes its theme with the nostalgia of a hand across a foggy window. Tender and seasonally inflected, it brings liturgical wonder to the trio’s sanctity, as deferential as the day is long.

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