Like Brad Mehldau, the UK saxophonist Andy Sheppard is a restless and prolific recording artist with a distinctive sound. It doesn't take anything away from the Espen Eriksen Trio to say that the tenor player is central to the Norwegian group's second album, Perfectly Unhappy. Eriksen's eight original, rather melancholic tunes have a simple melodic rub that really suits Sheppard's warm fuzzy tone. The leader is always involved though, his spare piano lines pulling the melodic focus on pieces or giving a gentle background descant that heightens the material's lyricism. Some people say that sadness is the most beautiful emotion; after 45 minutes with Eriksen, Sheppard and co I'm inclined to agree. 4/5.
BBC Music Magazine (UK)
I've been waiting for this record for two years now I once heard the Trio on the stage with Andy Sheppard guesting, and knew then that it should be recorded. The lyrical feeling that the Espen Eniksen Trio creates makes one immediately fall in love. Sheppard fits into this world like a hand in a glove, with an equally lyrical and fragile language. When you listen to previous recordings, you start asking yourself: "when is the sax going to join in?" Espen's compositions would allow that any time. Perfectly Unhappy is one of my favourite tracks, with all the qualities I value highly, plus a lot of space for a saxophonist. Rhythms slow down here and there, keeping time with Sheppard's smooth breath, so the considerable skilfulness of the drummer can also be heard here. I have no knowledge of who actually composed 1974, but it sounds so Sheppard. The sax figures have perfect pace, and the sound blossoms with every note. The way the piano dialogues with the sax is quite charming, as does the ability of the rhythm section to merge so deeply that it becomes almost a piano harmonic. Saying that this is another great recording from the Espen Eriksen Trio would be trivial. This music is simply too beautiful, so one needs to hear and feel it to understand. It's the way it touches and comforts your mind, more than simply what it sounds like.
Hi Fi Critic (UK)
The Norwegian Espen Eriksen Trio was formed in 2007 and its personnel has remained unchanged ever since, across three previous album releases on Rune Grammofon. Such stability has allowed pianist Espen Eriksen, bassist Lars Tormod Jenset and drummer Andreas Bye to bond together and develop the particular chemistry that a successful trio needs, without having to resort to gimmicks or trickery to get their music noticed. Primarily based upon Eriksen's own compositions, that music has a rich sense of melody coupled with a poignant lyricism that is infectious. In 2016 the trio invited British tenor saxophonist Andy Sheppard to guest with them in London. As Sheppard's playing shares the qualities that make the trio so successful and distinctive, whoever decided to invite him knew what they were doing; the collaboration was very successful. As Sheppard himself has commented, "I knew from the first time I heard the trio play that I would fit right in. I loved the melodic sense and the vibe." Since then, the four have toured Korea and Norway together, before recording this album. All eight tracks on Perfectly Unhappy are new Eriksen compositions written with this collaboration in mind and recorded in two days, in Oslo. However it came about, the symbiosis between the saxophonist and the trio is truly remarkable. Sheppard sounds as if he has been playing with them for a decade or more; he phrases the compositions' heads in ways that make them fit perfectly with the trio's accompaniment, and his solos feel like natural extensions of the themes. Time and again, the saxophone manages to strike just the plaintive tone needed. Sheppard does not dominate, though; the trio gets space enough to make it clear they are equal partners in the venture. The success of the album is down to all four of them and demonstrates what fine musicians they are. Sheppard is a busy man, both with his own quartet and in a trio with Steve Swallow and Carla Bley. We must hope that he can negotiate enough time off from those commitments in order to further this collaboration with Espen Eriksen Trio. It would be a great pity if this excellent album turned out to be a one-off. More, please.
All About Jazz (US)
Andy Sheppard has been guesting live wherever possible with the Espen Eriksen Trio since 2016. He blends perfectly into this album's unity of emotional purpose, the ambiguity of which is summed up in its title. One of the Trio's other rare collaborations was with another ECM artist, the spiritual saxophonist Trygve Seim, and Eriksen's bright, chiming tone and minimalist tendencies would easily fit that label's Nordic catalogue. The critic Luca Vitali also sees him in a lineage with Esbjorn Svensson, though this gentle band share little dynamically with EST. Eriksen's comfort with pop and folk-like melodies and (understated) groove are perhaps post-Svensson, but the whole spare tradition since Garbarek is present too. The immediate warmth of the melodies Eriksen wrote with Sheppard in mind are what count, anyway. The saxophonist hushes down to meet the pianist on their first, intimate assignation, 'Above the Horizon'. Then time stretches to the heartbeat-slowing rhythm of `1974', Sheppard a cool summer breeze over Andreas Bye's easy shuffle, everyone sluggish in the heat, till a final, fatalistic shrug of a Sheppard solo. The title-track is the stately unfolding of a static mood, and the same could be said of the album. It may disappoint if you prefer evenings where barstools are thrown, but the meditative effect is like a good night's last Scotch. Nagging melancholy is met with quiet reason. It's the Norwegian way.
The saxophonist can also be heard augmenting the excellent Espen Eriksen Trio on their new opus, Perfectly Unhappy, a finely-wrought collection of evocative mood pieces. 4/5.
Record Collector (UK)
Espen Berg er ikke den eneste pianisten ved navn Espen som er aktuell med album. På sitt fjerde album siden debuten «You Had Me at Goodbye», har Espen Eriksen Trio utvidet bandet med den britiske saksofonisten Andy Sheppard, kjent blant annet fra trio-samarbeidet med Carla Bley og Steve Swallow, og fra egen kvartett, med gitarist Eivind Aarset på laget. De åtte låtene på albumet «Perfectly Unhappy» er alle signert Eriksen, og føles nærmest skreddersydd samarbeidet med Sheppard. Med Andreas Bye på trommer og Lars Tormod Jenset på bass beveger de seg i et landskap av lavmælt poesi og melankoli, med ekko fra folkemusikken. Det er et velkjent landskap dette, men det er vellykket, og du verden så vakkert det kan låte, sjekk bare åpningen «Above The Horizon», en låt med en av disse melodiene som truer med å bore seg fast fra første stund.
Det går an å forestille seg at de fire figurene på Perfectly Unhappy-omslaget er et vennlig nikk i retning de fire ballongene på forsiden av Belonging. At de har med en låt som heter "1974", utgivelsesåret til det albumet, gjør at det dirrer i værhårene litt ekstra. Musikalsk er det jo heller ingen helt gæren sammenligning. Selv om Andy Sheppards tone er mer lun og lodden enn Garbareks og trioens beherskede fremgangsmåte i grunnen minner mer om den svenske piano-trioen som er nevnt lenger oppe i Bunkevis, er melodiene på denne plata fylt av så mye av det samme bittersøte grunnstoffet, den romantiske lengselen, at man ser for seg at den er skapt for samme typen kvelder som den store nesten- norske jazzklassikeren har tonesatt i over 40 år.
At Eriksen er ein låtsmed av rang, har han vist før. Han viser det til overmål igjen. Musikken er heile vegen melodiøs og pendlar mellom ballade og medium tempo. Arrangementa er enkle, og alle fire held på nøkternt vis attende, men ensemblet er aldri innovervendt. Det er noko liketil og rett på sak i musiseringa som er svært tiltalande, som til dømes ”Suburban Folk Song” der Eriksen er på sitt beste og mest karakteristiske. Sheppard er ein meister i å forma tema med små fraseringsdetaljar som gjer den store skilnaden. Han har også ei makelaus evne til å vera i dialog, venta på innspel frå dei tre andre. Jenset spelar med ein distinkt og varm tone. Han har mange års fartstid med Bye, og i fellesskap skapar dei eit rytmisk fundament som groovar og svingar på florlett vis.
Dag og Tid (NO)
Indeed, Andy Sheppard’s saxophone is yin to Espen Eriksen Trio’s yang on Perfectly Unhappy which is a near flawless album of contemporary jazz that veers between cinematic and filmic to melancholy, rueful and ruminative to emotive, joyous and uplifting that is also smooth and soulful. The addition of Andy Sheppard adds a new dimension to the Espen Eriksen Trio’s music on Perfectly Unhappy which is a career-defining album.
Dereks Music Blog (UK)