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Jazz - Released January 27, 2012 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - The Qobuz Standard - Hi-Res Audio - Stereophile: Recording of the Month
On his earlier ECM trio albums, pianist Tord Gustavsen composed in a very spacious and songlike manner that reflected his previous work touring with vocalists. On 2010's Restored, Returned, he experimented with this approach by adding Kristin Asbjørnsen's voice and Tore Brunborg's saxophones to the mix, and showcased his compositions in everything from duo to quintet settings. On The Well, Gustavsen brings back Brunborg on tenor, as well as the rhythm section, bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Jarle Vespestad. The songlike lyricism that has become his signature is underscored on The Well, but opens onto a wider harmonic field held in dynamic check. The album opens with "Prelude," a trio piece, where Gustavsen explores, in haunting minor-key formations, a lyric frame that is as intricate as it is warm and soulful. On "Suite," Gustavsen introduces the tune solo, with a simplicity and lyricism that are deepened when Eilertsen enters playing arco. When the rest of the band joins in, these melodic dimensions become expansive: tones, colors, textures, and dynamics shift incrementally. The trio piece "Circling" is one of the album's centerpieces, literally and figuratively. Its slow, reverential, gospel-like melody shuffles along with Vespestad's brushes and the stately pace of Eilertsen's bass. Gustavsen pointilistically moves around his lithe, graceful, harmonic sketch, playing at its edges and moving inside, exploring the elements he finds there. The title cut, the other pillar of this album, commences with a mysterious, nearly floating lyric figure stated on piano and answered by Brunborg's warm, welcoming tenor before it enters the realm of something approaching drift. That said, the focus on melody is quietly intense, even as the track becomes more abstract toward the middle; bass, piano, and saxophone all trade fours in rotation, answering and questioning further. Brunborg even moves toward blues in his solo. Playing quietly does require tremendous energy and discipline, and often runs counter to the improviser's instincts. On "Communion [Var]," Gustavsen plays almost the entire piece in p and pp. Brunborg's tenor speaks in halting tones that carry a skeletal yet nearly hummable melody accented by occasional entrances by Eilertsen's arco bass. Ultimately, The Well ends at "Inside," where virtually everything that has been previously explored is given (slightly) freer rein, exhibited by the minute-long bowed solo by Eilertsen that introduces the tune. Brunborg's economy on tenor is remarkable; rich and full, he doesn't need to "blow" because he can make it sing. On The Well, Gustavsen has taken his lyric approach to jazz and pushed it into more open and abstract terrain, which is more haunting and mysterious than anything on his previous offerings, yet refrains from ponderousness due to its remarkable restraint and symmetry. ~Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released August 31, 2018 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 Sterne Fono Forum Jazz
Fifteen years on from Changing Places, his first album for the label ECM, Tord Gustavsen is once again offering up an album performed with a trio, which seems to be the line-up most in keeping with his jarrettian tendencies. With his trusty drummer Jarle Vespestad and Sigurd Hole on double bass (replacing Harald Johnsen who passed away in 2011), the Oslo pianist mixes original compositions with Norwegian folk standards and even pieces by Bach. He ties together these apparently disparate themes with lyricism, and with a groove that's all his own. What makes The Other Side even more thrilling is the perfect unison between the players. © Clotilde Maréchal/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released January 17, 2014 | ECM

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Hi-Res Audio
The title of pianist Tord Gustavsen's sixth offering for ECM is, like his compositions, elusive on the surface but imparting multiple shades of meaning. His first three albums with the label showcased a trio; his last three the expanded setting of a quartet. Gustavsen's pianism is distinct and was developed over time while backing vocalists. The subtlety and lyricism from that time are embedded in his compositional DNA. His music as a bandleader has moved ever outward from a still -- not static -- center. This was especially prevalent on the trio recordings, where an intentional emphasis of restraint was placed on timbre, texture, and space (and can be heard on the bookend trio pieces here, "Right There" and "The Prodigal Song"). Over the quartet albums, his work has embraced a wider palette of colors and dynamics with a considerably expanded harmonic field. With saxophonist Tore Brunborg, bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Jarle Vespestad, Gustavsen pushes at the boundaries of the circle and expands its reach. The traditional Norwegian hymn, "Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg," showcases elegant chord voicings balanced by a turbulent, rhythmic undercurrent led by Vespestad's simmering drums, and woody dynamic support from Eilertsen that adds tension and dynamic. Brunborg's solo moves to the edges, nearly free of melodic constraints as Gustavsen's changes become more percussive to accommodate him. "Staying There" is an excellent showcase for Brunborg on a nearly funky blues groove. "The Gift" finds his rumbling tenor utterance in the tune's head, deep, warm, and soulful above a spacious, circular piano vamp and a rhythm section whose playing alternates between procession and shuffle. "Devotion" features lovely arco playing from Eilertsen in a rubato tone poem; its melody is based on Christian sacred music. The elliptical group playing at its center is especially appealing and connected. "The Embrace" is a canny modern jazz meld of gospel themes and soul music. On the midtempo "Glow," Gustavsen's vulnerability shines through as Brunborg answers his lines with emotive assent and encouragement. On Extended Circle, the pianist's roots remain contemplative, but the maturity of the communication among these players provides a more fluid and physical sense of motion, revealing a multi-faceted approach to both playing his tunes and improvising. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released October 12, 2009 | ECM

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Pianist Tord Gustavsen's contemporary European post-romantic music is perfectly suited for ECM Records, a spatial, introspective, demure jazz for dreamers. Restored, Returned departs from the strict piano/bass/drums format, adding vocalist Kristin Asbjørnsen, who sings lyrics in English, adding even more of a fantasy storybook element to the proceedings. Wispy and waspy tales of delicate sentiment -- and of course lost love -- make for a memorable if not intriguing statement, as Gustavsen and his group float above the clouds, looking down on foolish mortals, trying to understand our ways of the heart. Asbjørnsen's voice is dusky, a slight bit folkish in the Scandinavian tradition, compelling but not alluring. She cries out with equal portions of pain and hope during the title selection; is reassuring, as on the pop-styled ballad "Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love"; and waits by the window in passive reflection for three versions of "Left Over Lullaby." She makes a late arrival during "The Swirl/Wrapped in a Yielding Air," which starts in a sweet light funk rhythm with tenor saxophonist Tore Brunborg joining the group in a slight Michael Brecker visage as the piece beautifully unfolds. Her wordplay is derived from W.H. Auden's Another Time, dating back to 1940, as past and present meet. Of the instrumentals, the trio ruminates on the free piece "Way In," which is more dynamically present and features a rare solo from bassist Mats Eilertsen, while adding Brunborg's soprano sax for the somber waltz "You Crooked Heart," which builds a bit. Their instrumental crown jewel, "The Gaze," darkens into a midnight skulk via Brunborg's soprano sax, and the ensemble adopts a Keith Jarrett/Jan Garbarek stance for the lilting, easy Euro-swing of "Spiral Song." A certain symmetry within hushed tones is ever present, as there's nothing remotely approaching forte levels or kinetic tempos, as you should expect. In a way, Gustavsen is carrying the torch for the late Esbjörn Svensson in presenting new music that will not challenge the senses as much as it invigorates the imagination. As Asbjørnsen's singing is perfectly in sync with the music, this recording marks yet another chapter in the ECM discography, where subtlety is more important than boldness in this information-imploded world. ~ Michael G. Nastos
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Jazz - Released March 17, 2003 | ECM

This release signals in the then 33-year old, Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen's debut outing for the ECM Records label. His fellow compatriots, bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad, round out this jazz piano trio offering. Fundamentally speaking, the group seemingly works its palate into that classic "ECM Records" aesthetic, comprising echo-laden sonic characteristics and a chamber-esque vibe. Otherwise, Gustavsen demonstrates meticulously construed faculties via a tasteful approach, ringing up notions of the late Bill Evans, amid a conservatory-type demeanor. To that end, the pianist shines forth as a gifted melody maker via a series of deftly executed choruses and sublime themes. The bulk of this production consists of the trio's probing inclinations and lightly implemented rhythmic structures. Gustavsen's multifaceted arsenal features an abundance of swirling arpeggios, nimbly rendered harmonics, and gently fabricated block chords. Alternatively, the total listening experience becomes a bit arduous in scope, due to the band's unwavering gait. Nonetheless, Gustavsen is most certainly one to watch! ~ Glenn Astarita
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Jazz - Released January 29, 2016 | ECM

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Jazz - Released April 20, 2007 | ECM

On this third outing for ECM, pianist/composer Tord Gustavsen comes full circle on Being There. When he signed to the label in 2003, issuing his debut, Changing Places, he and his collaborators -- bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad -- dug deeply into close-knit quarters, creating a detailed yet expressionistic examination of the more melancholy human emotions. Being There completes a trilogy of elegantly layered, spacious jazz from the most introspective elements. As a pianist and composer, Gustavsen employs only the barest essentials. There is no fiery technique, no gimmickry that will heighten or dampen the mood, no harmonic drift. This music flows from a source, albeit quietly and enigmatically, looking into territory explored on this side of the Atlantic on earlier albums by Brad Mehldau, albeit with a distinctly Northern European voice. Perfect for ECM, the music is cool, almost uncomfortably so, such that when its lyricism is fully given voice it often takes the listener by surprise, instilling a kind of silence that breeds wonder rather than detachment. Manfred Eicher's signature production allows Gustavsen's piano the sheer deliberation and consideration he requires to put his gorgeous melodies into the air. This rhythm section doesn't follow his lead so much as flow into it, playing as a single voice, allowing these songs form and function. Gustavsen's imagery is skeletal, yet he shines light into the darkened corners of those less than celebratory moodscapes, bringing an intricate balance to both lyric and emotion. Check the rhythmic interplay on "Blessed Feet," where his chord voicings play the blues contrapuntally against Vespestad's snare. These are blues that sing and swing. Elsewhere, the mood is less transparent on the surface, such as in the whispering "Karmosin," written by Johnsen; it begins as an exercise in percussion, then rhythm, and finally lyricism. Johnsen's bass is a presence that anchors this lithe, shimmering melody and puts the weight of shade against the pianist's fragile light, and the articulation of the percussive voice melds both into a whole. The trio's artfulness is given full expression in the ballad "Around You," where the minor-key scalar head wraps itself around middle-register counterpoint and slides along the snare and cymbal skitter that is poignantly accented by Johnsen. The larger chords weave classical and jazz motions around the rhythm section, dynamically shifting from one bar to the next without ever losing sight of "song." At its heart, Being There is an album of very carefully constructed songs, where improvisation is part of a context -- its part in the entirety of the shape, texture, and dimension is argued delicately yet authoritatively, where close listening is of the essence by each player. The longest of these 13 pieces is only a shade over six minutes, and most fall between four and five minutes. For a recording that unveils itself so gracefully, there is true heft in its presentation. As hinted at on Tord Gustavsen's earlier ECM dates, Being There is the fruit of labor meticulously crafted and dutifully harvested. It is an album of secrets echoed, and questions that are fathomlessly deep; it invites the listener in cleanly, without seduction, and argues for full participation in its revelations. ~ Thom Jurek
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Jazz - Released January 1, 2005 | ECM

In the proto-typical Scandinavian ECM style of modern jazz oriented music, pianist Tord Gustavsen follows the path of previous progenitors influenced by Bill Evans, forged by Keith Jarrett, and extended by the likes of Mike Nock. This is certainly late-night, nocturnal music, completely reserved and relaxing, ultra-melodic, calm, peaceful, and non-threatening. Rarely does a tempo move beyond medium, a dynamic merge above mezzo piano, and any mood goes farther than moderately cool. Well within this consistent timbre, Gustavsen and his trio show a modicum of diversity and influences. Fellow ECM labelmate Bobo Stenson's style and technique is most extant during the lilting "Edges of Happiness," "Twins" is spiritual, calm, and light but not somber, while "Token of Tango" is perfectly representative of its title. "Curtains Aside" mixes march rhythm in 6/8 with a regal light funk, the delicate waltz "Being There" is reminiscent of "The Shadow of Your Smile," while darker ballads "Colours of Mercy" and "Sentiment" sport undoubtedly religious overtones. Gustavsen, while playing laid-back, pristine, pretty, and serene music, is far from challenging convention or pushing the envelope. Conversely, his personal voice is fully realized. Time will tell whether this style finds a worldwide audience, moves away from this type of contemporary texture music, or takes the approach he has established to any more extreme measures, even softer or more forceful. ~ Michael G. Nastos
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Jazz - Released January 17, 2014 | ECM

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Jazz - Released January 29, 2016 | ECM

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Jazz - Released August 31, 2018 | ECM

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Fifteen years on from Changing Places, his first album for the label ECM, Tord Gustavsen is once again offering up an album performed with a trio, which seems to be the line-up most in keeping with his jarrettian tendencies. With his trusty drummer Jarle Vespestad and Sigurd Hole on double bass (replacing Harald Johnsen who passed away in 2011), the Oslo pianist mixes original compositions with Norwegian folk standards and even pieces by Bach. He ties together these apparently disparate themes with lyricism, and with a groove that's all his own. What makes The Other Side even more thrilling is the perfect unison between the players. © Clotilde Maréchal/Qobuz
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Jazz - Released August 3, 2018 | ECM