Tord Gustavsen Ensemble at RNCM

For the past 18 months or so, the music of the Tord Gustavsen Trio has been played pretty constantly in our household – especially The Ground, with its exquisite opening track, ‘Tears Transforming’, the album that, amazingly, reached the top of the Norwegian album charts within a fortnight of its release. So, it was with great anticipation that we headed to the RNCM  last night for the concert by the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble, a larger outfit that on this UK tour consists of  Tord Gustavsen (piano), Tore Brunborg (tenor and soprano saxophones), Mats Eilertsen (double-bass), Jarle Vespestad (drums).

We were not disappointed. This was only the fourth time this quartet had performed live, though you wouldn’t have known it from their fluent interplay on this luminously beautiful lyrical music. Apparently, When Miles Davis was recording Sketches of Spain with Gil Evans, he said of of Rodrigo’s Arajuez Adagio, ‘that melody is so strong that the softer you play it the stronger it gets…’ Tord Gustavsen’s melodies are like that.

They began with the most beautiful of those melodies, ‘Tears Transforming’, and followed it with ‘ The Child Within’, from the Ensemble’s new album, Restored, Returned. Another tune, ‘Where We Went’ featured an exquisite, delicate drum solo by drummer Jarle Vespestad.

This is the Herald Scotland review of the Ensemble’s Edinburgh gig on the 18th:

It’s no surprise that Tord Gustavsen introduces his sound engineer as the fifth member of his ensemble. The pristine sound quality that comes as standard with the label Gustavsen records for, ECM, and micro adjustments such as the dash of reverb introduced on the drums at strategic moments play a large part in the Norwegian pianist’s concert presentation. In fact, there’s probably a whole review to be written about the tonal properties each musician entrusts to the mixing desk and the contrast between the comparatively imposing physical presence of double bassist Mats Eilertsen and the world’s quietest drummer, Jarle Vespestad. But these are bound up in a beautiful musical end product that communicates a wealth of ideas and champions celebration as much as melancholy and yearning. It just doesn’t make a big fuss about it.

In saxophonist Tore Brunborg, Gustavsen has a kindred spirit who expands the pianist’s palette while paying attention to melodic refinement and a sense of space. It says much for Brunborg that ‘The Swirl’, with its infectiously loose hipped, laid back boogaloo beat, sounded just as complete without the absent Kristin Asbjornsen’s very individual singing as it does on the ensemble’s new album, Restored, Returned. Gustavsen, though still compact, plays out of himself more in this setting than in his trio, digging deep into his gospel tendencies on a brand new tune and approaching the rhapsodic on the Spanish dance-influenced ‘Where We Went’, the number during which Vespestad, who alternates between sticks and brushes with near-surgical discernment, put forward an emphatic case for, unlikely though it may seem, the drum solo as means of seduction.

Another insightful review – this time, of the Birmingham gig on the 17th –  was this one, by Peter Bacon for thejazzbreakfast:

A friend had voiced moderate concern that the addition of saxophone to Gustavsen’s quiet and subtle music would somehow spoil it – a few notes from Brunborg and such misgivings were dispelled. He manages to combine warmth and richness of tone with precision of articulation in a compelling way. Gustavsen pointed out, in his thejazzbreakfast interview, how all the members of the band, even master drummer Jarle Vespestad, are melodists, and so it is: lines of improvised tunes weaving in and out, whether Eilertsen’s perfectly placed upper register bass counter-melodies, Brunborg’s always lyrical solos, Vespestad’s cymbal scrapes and tom-tom phrases, or the leader’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of freshly created songs.

As on the new album, the concert was woven through with what Gustavsen calls “left over lullabies”, gentle, calming music in one sense though with the knowledge of experience behind it to suggest that the day before this call to sleep has not been without its rigours and difficulties.

Tord Gustavsen Trio: Tears Transforming

Tord Gustavsen Trio: Still There (live, 2007)


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