‘Tord Gustavsen Trio – ‘Overture’ – London Jazz News
Tord Gustavsen Trio – Opening
(ECM 4540243. Album review by John Bungey)
Does anyone remember “hygge”? Before the permanent crisis of plague and war, the Danish term defined as “a quality of comfort and comfortable cosiness which engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being” appealed to British magazines. In 2016, glossies were filled with cashmere socks, log fires, cinnamon-scented coffee… Tired of Farage and the Donald? Hang in there with a chunky knit blanket and ceramic candle.
And maybe a Tord Gustavsen CD.
It’s hard not to think of that ‘comfortable coziness and cosiness quality’ when listening to the soulful, melodious sound of another successful Scandinavian export. Since its inception in 2003, Change location, the Norwegian Gustavsen and his groups have touched an audience far beyond jazz purists. Whether he played with a trio, a quartet or a quintet, the spirit of “Nordic gospel” shined through. You can’t dismiss ECM’s slickest offering as just a mood enhancer (unlike some lesser pianists who’ve found a cozy marketing niche). There is musical rigor behind Gustavsen’s whispered lyricism, his classical and folk-tinged themes and his sweet improvisations.
On the pianist’s ninth album as a frontman, alongside longtime drummer Jarle Vespestadhe is joined by a new bassist, Steinar Raknes. ECM is about the newbie bringing a “seductive unfamiliarity” to the sound. Not sure about that. While some enthusiastic bowed basses late in the record inject darker sonic colors than Gustavsen’s usual palette, much of this quietly seductive release will have an appealing familiarity to fans.
The hesitant opening piano lines and shimmering cymbals of The circle propel us directly into the world of Gustavsen. The bass tiptoes around the bittersweet, hymn-like melody chosen by the man who sets the piano to pianissimo. The title track’s sweet melody and sense of foreboding evoke a noir Scandi, all haze and regret. Desire is a fleeting prayer-like supplication that floats and disappears in just 2.5 minutes. song of the shepherd, for a brief moment, the music threatens to turn into a bluesy groove – you almost tap your foot – before falling back into more habitual daydreaming. These sheep are having a great time.
And so the tunes shimmer – all recorded in the translucent acoustics of the Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano. At Helensburgh Tango a snare drum resounds as the ghostly bowed bass and the piano intertwine in the slowest of dances. Upon reopening, the bowed bass returns, howling sadly before a sublime, majestic piano melody emerges from the beautiful darkness.
With lesser performers, the uniformity of mood and reluctance to crank up the volume would fade. But there is an artistry in Gustavsen’s compositions, a skill in their execution, and a warmth in their spirit that keeps the listener engaged. Now where’s my chunky knit blanket?
The opening is released on April 8, 2022. Tord Gustaven’s six venue tour of England begins at The Stables, Milton Keynes on May 17. APPOINTMENT