Bobo Stenson Trio: Indicum

Bobo Stenson’s trio with bassist Anders Jormin and drummer Jon Fält belongs on the short list with the great piano trios of our time. But Stenson records less often than the Jarretts, Mehldaus, Bollanis and Morans. Indicum is only his fifth trio release since 1998. A new recording by Stenson is a significant event.

A Stenson album is also an organic whole. He gets to that whole by assembling diverse starting points and then allowing their explorations to flow into his poetic, austere aesthetic world. His choices of sources are rarely obvious. Carl Nielsen’s “Oft Am I Glad” is a Danish hymn through which Stenson aspires upward toward a state of grace. “Ave Maria” is a Norwegian traditional that he marks out with careful formality and then slowly whirls like a ritual on the momentum of Fält and Jormin. Ariel Ramírez’s “La Peregrinación” comes from the other side of the planet, Argentina, but Stenson makes it part of the same solemn emotional landscape. And Stenson always offers at least one revelatory discovery. Here it is “Ubi Caritas” by the Norwegian classical composer Ola Gjielo, a chorale work stripped down to single piano note lines that lay bare a melody to pierce the heart. Fält responds with quiet rolls and cymbal whispers, and Jormin with arco bass yearnings. You never miss the choir.

Stenson’s progressions are his own. His long lines pull against a subliminal harmonic countercurrent and never go where you expect, and never reduce to a single resolution when they get there. His right hand defies reason, in the way it transcends the keyboard to keep climbing. The pianist to whom he is closest is Bill Evans. Like Evans, Stenson deals in feelings that listeners had previously assumed were theirs alone. Sadness expressed through lyricism and shared becomes something other than sadness.