Recommended: Eple Trio – “Universal Cycle” / Eple Trio

A strong new release from the Eple Trio, who create blissfully serene soundscapes in the Nordic Jazz style. Universal Cycle is the kind of music for drifting away to, but the trio of pianist Andreas Ulvo, bassist Sigurd Hole and drummer Jonas Sjøvaag ramp up the voltage on the details and the nuance, so that tiny sounds carry far and wide. It’s not sleepy music, but it is made of the stuff of very active dreams from a very peaceful nap. It engages without challenging. It immerses without overwhelming. It is quite beautiful.

It opens with “Setting Foot On Another Planet,” which features the acoustic guitar of guest Ivar Grydeland. His rhythmic display is a lovely contrast to bass arco, and the propulsion creates a mesmerizing effect that could be, should be endless.

“One Elephant” gets things back to a more familiar Nordic jazz piano trio sound. Ulvo’s reflective musings on piano spark with life. Hole’s bass gurgles up to the surface to interact with piano. Sjøvaag’s drums mark the path, making it easy to follow without ever feeling boxed in by an absence of spontaneity. It’s slow and steady and honors the wishes of a pond that prefers to remain undisturbed. Later, “Morning Stillness, Crisp Air” treads similar territory.

“Island Sunrise” is the first of three appearances by trumpeter Mathias Eick on the recording. Eick is a staple of the Nordic jazz subgenre. His voice on trumpet is the perfect mix of introspective melancholia and pop music infectiousness. In recent history, he’s strayed a bit too far to the latter of those qualities, but 2014 sees him returning to a stronger balance between the two. His contributions to Universal Cycle is further evidence of this, and he brings a remarkably evocative quality to this session, providing some necessary warmth to music that can be a bit distant.

Ulvo adds some prepared piano on “First Sun.” Grydeland shadows him on guitar while Sjøvaag adds texture on percussion. The pleasant moodiness of the song is enhanced even further when Hole enters with bass arco. And Hole shows his melodic side on “Tipplers Insomnia.” His arco behaves like an agitated heartbeat, radiating a liveliness that incites motion and elevates tension.

The finale “On A Road That Never Ends” highlights the album’s strengths to a tee. The piano trio balances out its contemplative ambiance with a restive demeanor, and draws out how a peaceful state and an active frame of mind can coexist in perfect harmony.

Just a beautiful album.