Espen Berg Trio

Free To Play
(Odin)

Free To Play, a perfect title for the Espen Berg Trio’s new recording, doesn’t mean that the group plays nice. It suggests that the band takes pleasure in its inspiring interplay.

The piano trio’s third album attests to a unique conception of ego. No matter how full the track, the musicians don’t put each other on a pedestal by dropping into the background during solos. The sound is thick and thorough, the sequencing designed to tell a story that begins in turbulence and ends in peace. All nine tunes are distinctive, but three are especially beautiful: “Camillas Sang,” the first to pack as much romance as rigor; “‘Oumuamua,” on which Berg unearths lines both confrontational and aspirational; and “Furuberget,” a ruminative conversation between Berg and bassist Bárður Reinert Poulsen. Berg is the group’s driver, commanding the track even when he doesn’t launch it. “Skrivarneset” illustrates the group’s flexible M.O.: Berg hews close to the middle register, building inexorably as Reinert Poulsen rises to prominence, his taut bass lines grounding the piece. The recording doesn’t leave a lot of air, and the solos are brief and purposeful. Trio members goad and coax each other, tracks vary in texture and tempo, and melody is largely implied. But no matter how abstract, Free To Play never reduces to the merely intellectual.