Review: Tord Gustavsen, London

JOHN ADCOCK finds the Norwegian pianist bringing new meaning to the idea of jazz trading on a Sunday: no JATP-style sparring contests here but reverential silence between occasional solos in an evening of hushed spirituality

Tord Gustavsen EnsembleIn a recent interview for Jazz Journal, Tord Gustavsen spoke of the importance of liturgy and church music in his compositions and performance. Apt then, that the appearance of the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble at the QEH should happen to fall on a Sunday.

Working through several compositions from his latest ECM recording The Well, Gustavsen demonstrated the powerful connection that his spare, spiritual, lyrical music can have when performed before a hushed, appreciative audience, in a venue that was absolutely pitch perfect for the occasion.

Wreathed in misty, slightly other-worldly lighting, Mats Eilertsen appeared sentinel-like in the half-darkness on bass, with Jarle Vespestad offering restrained, expressive drumming on the smallest of kits. Tore Brunborg moved gracefully between front and back of the set when delivering the most pure, haunting melodies on tenor sax, leaving Gustavsen himself as the most physically active performer on stage. Coiling, hunching, occasionally standing, he conjured the most delicate of sounds on piano as a set of great beauty unfolded.

It's often considered bad form at classical music concerts to applaud between the movements of symphonies and concertos. In similar vein, it would have seemed almost disrespectful to applaud the occasional solos, as it would have completely broken the spell of the music. Thankfully, the audience showed as much restraint as the performers, saving enthusiastic clapping until the end of each perfectly delivered song.

In addition to material from The Well, Gustavsen included a few favourites from previous ECM albums. Interestingly, although these were equally engaging, it was noticeable just how much greater spiritual depth and exploration there is in his newer compositions, something live performance brings out more clearly than on CD.

Earlier, Norwegian jazz-folk trio Susanna had opened the evening with a few tracks from their forthcoming new album. Here too, a sense of spiritual connection set the tone for the evening, with voice, piano, guitar and drums offering up some brooding, typically Scandinavian ruminations on life, love and death.

But without doubt it was the Tord Gustavsen Ensemble that made the greatest connection. Everything felt right about the concert: the wonderful acoustics of the QEH, the hushed reverence of the audience, the sense of spiritual connection between the performers and their material. In short, the ideal Sunday service.

Photo: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen, courtesy Proper Note/ECM

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