Peter Erskine Trio – As It Was

as it was(ECM Old and New Masters Series)

This trio – the American drummer with Swedish double bassist Palle Danielsson and English pianist John Taylor – always sounded so distinctive to me, the albums sounding like no other trio’s. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly why.

In the booklet to this latest in ECM’s white box sets, Peter Erskine explains exactly what it was I heard and couldn’t articulate:

“I was very specific that: number one, dynamically, the goal was to get audiences to lean forward in their seats to hear us; and number two, most importantly, that we think of and consider solos to be non-events. I was trying to create more non-events than events – that the arc of the tune didn’t need any visible peaks.”

I love that second point, and Erskine, when trying to stop the solos on his tune On The Lake from becoming “too muscular”, expands on what he means: “So I told the guys, ‘Just imagine that you’re riding on a train, and you glance out the window and through some trees you see a lake and you see some mist there; just a fleeting impression. I don’t need a flock of geese to fly by.”

Peter Erskine, Palle Danielsson and John Taylor

Peter Erskine, Palle Danielsson and John Taylor

The trio recorded four albums of material between 1992 and ’97, and this latest in ECM’s plainly lettered white boxes reminds us just how marvellous a band it was, that past tense heightened so poignantly by the passing of John Taylor just over a year ago. You Never Know, Time Being, As It Is and Juni are in many ways as “non-eventful’ as Erskine wanted, yet crammed with beauty, sometimes of the familiar kind but often attractive in a stranger and certainly unexpected way.

Perhaps that unexpectedness stems from certain tensions in the band? Erskine makes a passing reference in the booklet essay to the fact that because he was the major composer in the band and the most skilled arranger Taylor would sometimes “take it upon himself” to rework things. Elsewhere he says  “I won’t say that we brought out the best in each other” and “If Juni was a difficult record to make, it’s not obvious from the result…”

John Taylor was a prime example of a musician who never settled on the past or even the present but was ever moving forward, ever pushing to find new knowledge. And I am sure Danielsson and Erskine are like that too.

If you already know some of this music, this is an ideal way to purchase the rest; if you don’t know it at all, my heavens, are you in for a treat! Some of the most exqusite music-making you will listen to this year or next or for many years hence. And, no, no flocks of geese were needed in the making of these albums.

Categories: CD review

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