“Across the span of four recordings, Erskine, Taylor and Danielsson created a body of work that, twenty years later, remains as engaging, explorative and vital as when it was first conceived.”
- John Kelman, in the liner notes
The newest addition to ECM’s popular Old and New Masters Series is a box set reprising the four albums made by Peter Erskine’s American-British-Swedish trio with John Taylor and Palle Danielsson between 1992 and 1997: You Never Know, As It Is, Time Being and Juni. If its core concept – a piano trio led by a drummer – was unorthodox, the group was nonetheless influential. British pianist John Taylor (1942-2015) was the Erskine Trio’s primary composer, with the drummer-leader and bassist Danielsson also contributing pieces and the repertoire topped up with tunes by Vince Mendoza and Kenny Wheeler. Of his trio mates Erskine says, "We drew out our most explorative and interesting playing from each other. Without trying to be, we were a truly unique group. I’ve heard nothing like it before or since.”
Peter Erskine (born 1954 in New Jersey) came to ECM from quite different musical environments: the big bands of Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton and the electric jazz group Weather Report, in its loudest and most outgoing phase. Erskine’s recordings for the label underline the point that intensity can be obtained by many means. Touring and recording with the John Abercrombie Trio (see Current Events, Getting There, November and the live John Abercrombie/Marc Johnson/Peter Erskine) and a trio with Jan Garbarek and Miroslav Vitous (Star) paved the way for the music Erskine would make as a leader for ECM, but also as crucial were recordings made with Kenny Wheeler in 1990. The drummer played on Wheeler’s landmark Music for Large and Small Ensembles as well as the quintet album The Widow In The Window, both of which brought him together with Kenny’s long-time associate, pianist John Taylor. When the quintet toured in Europe, Dave Holland ceded the bass role to Palle Danielsson. The rapport established onstage by drummer, pianist and bassist left Erskine in no doubt about his choice of musicians when invited to lead an ECM session of his own. After the first one, You Never Know, the participants were keen to do more.
Amongst other attributes the recordings provide an outstanding context for the distinctive writing and playing of John Taylor. Taylor was – as John Kelman writes in the liner notes – the trio’s “most prolific writer by a long shot, rendering him a significant definer of the group’s overall complexion.” Peter Erskine agrees that Taylor was “responsible in great measure for the voice and tone of the piano trio recordings we have done together, a consummately inventive musician.” At the same time, it remained Erskine’s trio and proceeded on the basis of his ground rules: “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 that we consider solos to be non-events.” The group could play freely while still honouring the intentions of the given composition: “The arc of the tune didn’t need any visible peaks … Everyone was polite enough to listen to each other and to what the music had to say. The trio operated out of a very high sense of mutual listening and respect.”
John Taylor and Palle Danielsson (born 1956 in Stockholm) brought, of course, a wealth of experience of their own to the project. Danielsson, at 19, had played with Bill Evans in Sweden. He went on to work extensively with Bobo Stenson and, most famously, with Keith Jarrett, as documented on Belonging, My Song, Nude Ants, Personal Mountains and Sleeper. He can also be heard on ECM recordings with Charles Lloyd, Dino Saluzzi, Enrico Rava, Tomasz Stanko, Lena Willemark, Edward Vesala, Collin Walcott, and Anouar Brahem.
Taylor’s pre-Erskine Trio recordings for ECM included five Azimuth albums with Kenny Wheeler and Norma Winstone where the repertoire was comprised almost entirely of John’s compositions. Taylor appears also on Norma Winstone’s Somewhere Called Home, and three sessions under Kenny Wheeler’s leadership, as well as recordings with John Surman, Miroslav Vitous, Jan Garbarek, and Arild Andersen. After the disbanding of the Erskine group, he continued to record for ECM with discs including Marilyn Mazur’s Celestial Circle, Mark Feldman’s What Exit and his own Rosslyn album with his New York trio with Marc Johnson and Joey Baron.
All four of the recordings included in the As It Was box were recorded in Oslo’s original Rainbow Studio, and produced by Manfred Eicher.