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Tord Gustavsen :: Ground
by Polish Jazz Network

Of the very many Norwegian artists that ECM has introduced over the years, Tord Gustavsen must count as one of the least "Nordic" in musical temperament. If the contemplative component of his music and its quietude still reflect Scandinavian priorities, the manner in which he has sought and located connections to early jazz - especially the blues, gospel music, and the nexus of Caribbean music and New Orleans jazz - is entirely his own. Tord Gustavsen is looking out at the tradition from a highly personal perspective, making sense of both his background as a Norwegian, and his enthusiasms as a jazz scholar and player. The Ground reveals a stronger sense of purpose and a greater conceptual rigor than its predecessor: without sacrificing the clear-edged melodic sensibility that can already be considered one of the hallmarks of Gustavsen's writing, the musicians are better able to improvise within the structure of the pieces.

"In the course of touring", says Tord Gustavsen, "we've come to a deeper understanding of our strengths. We're both a very melodic trio and a very freedom-searching trio, and both those aspects may be clearer on the new record. The strong but somewhat abstract 'gospel' or 'hymnal' feel in much of our playing has also become more evident and central to our approach during the last couple of years. I think this relates to a constant urge to unite 'openness' with solid foundations." Gospel elements in the music go back to Gustavsen's childhood and to teenage years spent playing the piano in church. "The hymnal elements in our music represent a kind of post-modern but sincere 'sacred' attitude in our approach to music at large. And wordless hymns may also have emerged from my personal need for music of support and hope in times of grief."

The relationship of written material to improvising is calibrated differently in this trio, with none of bebop's impatient rushing past the "heads" to improvise on the changes. These tunes don't work that way. "I like to think of a piece as a whole. And I'll use a lot of fragments from the composed piece, melodic fragments, also in my improvisations. Sometimes small fragments are used for development. In any case, it's imperative, for us, to have a real relationship between composition and improvisation -- it's an organic thing. All members of the trio are very focused on that." Yet simultaneously the band members are taking greater freedoms, with drummer Jarle Vespestad in particular playing through the song-forms with much creativity and subtlety, and, to quote Gustavsen, "expressive minimalism".

published 19.04.2005 2005 jazz news :: home page

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