Tord Gustavsen Trio – Opening
(ECM 4540243. Album Review by John Bungey)
Anyone remember “hygge”? Before the perma-crisis of plague and war, the Danish term defined as “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being” seduced UK style mags. In 2016 the glossies were full of cashmere socks, log fires, cinnamon-scented coffee … Sick of Farage and the Donald? Hunker down with a chunky knit blanket and a ceramic candle.
And, perhaps a Tord Gustavsen CD.
It’s hard not to think of that “quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality” listening to the wistful, melodious sound of another successful Scandinavian export. Since his 2003 debut, Changing Places, the Norwegian Gustavsen and his groups have reached audiences far beyond the jazz purists. Whether he’s played with a trio, quartet or quintet the spirit of “Nordic gospel” has shone through. You can’t dismiss ECM’s most honeyed offering as a mere mood enhancer (unlike some lesser pianists who found a comfy marketing niche). There is musical rigour behind Gustavsen’s whispered lyricism, his classical and folk-tinged themes and gentle improvisations.
On the pianist’s ninth album as leader, alongside longtime drummer Jarle Vespestad, he is joined by a new bassist, Steinar Raknes. ECM talk of the debutant bringing an “enticing unfamiliarity” to the sound. Not sure about that. While some keening bowed bass late on in the record injects tone colours darker than Gustavsen’s usual palette, much of this quietly beguiling release will have an enticing familiarity to fans.
The first tentative piano lines and shimmering cymbals of The Circle propel us directly into Gustavsen’s world. The bass tiptoes round the bittersweet, hymn-like melody picked out by the man who puts the piano in pianissimo. The title track’s gentle melody and sense of foreboding conjures a Scandi noir, all billowing mist and regrets. The Longing is a fleeting prayer-like supplication that wafts in and is gone in barely 2 mins 30. On Shepherd Song, for a short moment, the music threatens to build into a bluesy groove – you’re almost tapping a foot – before slipping back into more customary reverie. Those sheep are having a chilled time.
And so the tunes shimmer in and out – all recorded in the translucent acoustic of the Auditorio Stelio Molo in Lugano. On Helensburgh Tango a snare drum rattles as ghostly bowed bass and piano entwine in the slowest of dances. On Re-opening the bowed bass returns, mournfully keening before a sublime, stately piano melody emerges from the beautiful gloom.
With lesser artists the uniformity of mood and reluctance to turn up the volume would pall. But there’s an artistry to Gustavsen’s compositions, a skill in their execution, and a warmth to their spirit that keeps the listener engaged. Now where’s my chunky knit blanket?
Opening is released on 8 April 2022. Tord Gustaven’s tour of six venues in England starts at the Stables, Milton Keynes, on May 17. DATES
Categories: Album review