Peter Erskine drums
John Taylor piano
Palle Danielsson double-bass
Recorded July 1997 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
ECM’s fourth album by drummer Peter Erskine with pianist John Taylor and bassist Palle Danielsson, JUNI perhaps best realizes the balance between fullness and sparseness the three have been seeking since their debut, You Never Know. Consequently, the Bill Evans influence—lifeblood of everything this trio plays—is even more nakedly portrayed. “The forming of this trio was partly a reaction to a lot of stuff that’s out there,” notes Erskine. “There’s so much music that’s just thrown at you, and it’s loud and it has no real dynamic range and all the spaces in the music are filled up. I wanted to oppose that trend.” To that end, if not beginning, Erskine and company enable a delicate asymmetry in which transformation is a necessary condition of life. Whereas before they created epic swaths of watery goodness, this time they concentrate on a subtler array of themes and moods.
Taylor contributes the most tunes of the set and opens with his wavering “Prelude Nr 2.” Raindrops seem to fall from his fingers in an abstract introduction, dark though chambering a shining heart. “Windfall,” previously heard on Journey’s End by the Miroslav Vitous Group, plots a smoother, Brazilian-flavored journey. Supple flowers grow wherever Danielsson treads, and his rounded solo foils Taylor’s dialogue with Erskine to remarkable effect. “Fable” rounds out the Taylor compositions with a ray of golden light and feathered shadow evoked by him and Danielsson respectively, and strung by the restless air currents of Erskine’s brushes. The latter add paternal love to the plush emotional exchanges of Danielsson’s “Siri,” in which Taylor is the true standout.
Erskine himself counters with a twofer of his own, including the fragmentary and whimsical “The Ant & The Elk” (notable for his subdued yet popping aside) and “Twelve,” from which the album gets its title (jūni 十二 means “twelve” in Japanese) and which evokes the barest whispers of swing, maintaining the album’s purposeful ambiance even at its most straightforward. “For Jan”—by Kenny Wheeler, for his relative of the same name—reflects Erskine’s work with Taylor in Wheeler-led ensembles. From a skittering drum intro it unfolds into a sparkling anthem with gorgeous slides from Danielsson, who polishes the edges of Taylor’s keys.
Like the second hand of a schoolroom analog clock, “Namasti” (Diana Taylor) passes smoothly through the minutes with precision. Its face may be secular, but its implications are spiritual and take things for the illusions that they are.
JUNI thus brands a perfect yin yang onto Erskine’s résumé. He holds the world on a wire, eliciting from his sidemen a most sonorous gravitation. He is the sun of these sessions. May his light touch your heart.