From the very beginning of its history, ECM Records has championed the improvised music of the Far North. Its already substantial "nordic panorama" is now further expanded with the debut album of a trio made up of three young Norwegians. Their subtle, serious, original music shows an astute awareness of the achievements of Scandinavian jazz, yet also looks beyond it. No Birch (the title alludes to a famous poem by Swedish writer Karin Boye) is quietly adventurous, proposing a nexus between what one might term the post-Feldman, quasi-subliminal impulse of specific new music directions on the one hand, and developments in free playing that could be traced back to Paul Bley's daring use of space on the other. Either tendency can bring a musician to the realization that the absence of sound can be as potent and energizing as its presence, and indeed the Wallumrød Trio is unafraid to broach the brink of silence.
The internal dynamic of the band derives from the adroit balancing of its members' musical preferences. To oversimplify, Wallumrød is the band's "jazz" player, Henriksen makes free improvisation his first priority, and Kjos Sørensen's percussion colours reflect his commitment to modern composition. It is perhaps the latter's presence that most quickly establishes the trio's originality.
Born in 1965, Kjos Sørensen is the group's senior member and a musician recognized as the foremost classical percussionist in Norway today. He studied in Oslo, Banff and Versailles, before taking up posts as principal percussionist with the Bergen Philharmonic, the Stavanger Symphony and the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. His solo recital repertoire includes pieces by Xenakis, Stockhausen, Lachenmann, Donatoni, Volans, Denissow and many others. Kjos Sørensen has developed an improvised language to accompany modern dance together with violist Gro Løvdahl, recently demonstrated in the ballet Ploss in Oslo, and also works frequently with noted French percussionist Jean-Paul Drouet.
Trumpeter Arve Henriksen, born 1968, studied at the Trondheim Conservatory and has worked as a freelance musician since 1989. He has played with many musicians familiar to ECM listeners including Jon Balke (of whose Magnetic North Orchestra he is also a member), Anders Jormin, Edward Vesala, Jon Christensen, Audun Kleive, Nils Petter Molvær, Misha Alperin, Arkady Shilkloper, Marc Ducret, Bjørn Kyellemyr and the Cikada String Quartet, as well as Sten Sandell, Frode Gjerstad, Peter Friis Nilsen and many other Scandinavians committed to free improvisation. Jazz journalist Roald Helgheim: "Henriksen is a spontaneous and impulsive player. Behind the soft, beautiful trumpet sound on No Birch, there is a hidden eruptive power."
Leader/pianist Christian Wallumrød, born 1971, grew up in Kongsberg, where he began playing the piano at 12 to accompany choirs in a local church. (The church mode feel of "The Birch", a piece that appears in four variations on the new album, may owe something to this background, although there are also affinities with Kenny Wheeler's writing). An early interest in jazz brought him to teachers including Egil Kapstad, the Bill Evans-inspired pianist known internationally for his work with Karin Krog. From 1990 to 1992, Wallumrød studied jazz at the Trondheim Conservatory, going on to work with many Norwegian improvisors including Nils Petter Molvær, Per Jørgensen, Jon Christensen, Audun Kleive, Tore Brunborg, Bugge Wesseltoft and others. Since 1993 he has also been a member of a large ensemble directed by guitarist Jon Eberson.
Since his Trondheim studies, Wallumrød has been increasingly concerned with composing, writing material for each group and project he has been involved in. In 1994 he and fellow keyboardist Ståle Storløkken were engaged to write music for the 30th Kongsberg Jazz Festival. Christian Wallumrød currently divides his time between three trios, working with - in addition to the line-up heard on No Birch - the band Close Erase (with bassist Ingebrigt H. Flaten and drummer Per Oddvar Johansen) and the Rosseland/Wallumrød/Eick Trio (with singer Elin Rosseland and bassist Johannes Eick).