Half Notes: Tord Gustavsen Quartet – The Well (2012)

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Photo: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen

ECM is a record label that is often stereotyped as offering only open, spacious, and sterile European—frequently Scandinavian—kind of chamber jazz and I’ve often come across so many exceptions, that characterization can’t even be considered the rule. But Tord Gustavsen’s music can be. Playing economically and with little on the improvisational side but long on the poetic side, the Norwegian pianist and composer led a trio in that vein in the Aughts, made three albums for ECM before changing his Tord Gustavsen Trio into a Tord Gustavsen Ensemble, fronted by a singer (for 2010’s Restored, Returned). On this upcoming release The Well, it’s now a Quartet, with Tore Brunborg’s lonely, barren tenor sax fronting an ensemble that carries over Mats Eilertsen (double-bass), Jalre Vespestad (drums) and Gustavsen. Every piece is unhurried, spiritual and contemplative, playing folk-ish type melodies in a style of jazz that is almost as much new age. But listen closely to Gustavsen’s pieces and his understated playing style and you definitely won’t confuse him with Jim Brickman even if you wouldn’t mistake him for Keith Jarrett, either. The calm mood is so carefully consistent throughout, songs are not terribly distinguishable from another, except that Vespestad’s drumming on “Playing” is restless and probing in an unassuming way. The extended form “Suite” stands out as well for how it strings together nice little euphonic ideas. Otherwise, for most listeners, The Well qualifies for background music but of a higher quality.

The Well goes on sale February 7. Visit Tord Gustavsen’s website.

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