Tord Gustavsen Trio: Changing Places (ECM 1834)

Changing Places

Tord Gustavsen Trio
Changing Places

Tord Gustavsen piano
Harald Johnsen double-bass
Jarle Vespestad drums
Recorded December 2001 and June 2002 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The debut of pianist Tord Gustavsen’s all-Norwegian trio was a much-lauded event. Famously trending on the Scandinavian pop charts, this album more importantly trended in many listeners’ hearts, building its tunes—each a monument to subtlety—entirely out of infrastructure. Speaking as they do on the inside, said tunes come to us fully realized. The gossamer curtains on the sleeve give us only half the story. As towers of gaseous flame, their folds belie the chemical properties therein. Yet there is also the scene beyond, waiting for those who dare to brush the curtains aside. Here is where the music’s ambient nature thrives, unlimited and thrumming with purpose.

“Deep as Love” is as defining an introductory statement as one could imagine. Everything about it describes the trio to a T: the smoothness of execution, a yielding strength of theme, and the breadth of the band’s collective signature. Bassist Harald Johnsen elicits the album’s first revelation as he connects the DNA ladder between Gustavsen’s bluesy accents and drummer Jarle Vespestad’s hourglass timekeeping. This track speaks most clearly to Gustavsen’s sensitivities as player and composer, as does the subsequent “Graceful Touch.” The latter’s chromatic twists linger long after their execution, each a comforting tickle at the back of the temporal lobe. Based on these alone, one could be forgiven in thinking that the band is nothing but shadow and flutter, but the swing implied by Gustavsen’s solo intro to “IGN” is picked up beautifully by the cymbalism of Vespestad, who navigates by sense of touch rather than by hearing. The end effect brims with hip, urban energy that by the sparkling finish leaves us suspended between realms. So, too, does “Turning Point,” which marks a shift in the album’s planetary alignment, and the smoother “Going Places.”

Still, with so much pathos to be savored, it’s no wonder that the band’s strongest tunes should also be its gentlest. From the expansive (“Melted Matter”) to the intimate (Gustavsen’s solo “Interlude”), melodies impose themselves with the force of windblown grass. Solos likewise emerge with such ease that one almost doesn’t notice their crocodilian eyes peeking above the surface. The democratic integrity of “Where Breathing Starts,” for instance, is such that no single instrument can be separated from the others. Johnsen’s depth-soundings proceed robustly here against Gustavsen’s splashes of anthemic color, Vespestad keeping the frame intact all the while.

The magic of Gustavsen’s trio thrives not only in its forward thinking, but also in its nods to bygone days. Hence, the classic sheen of “Your Eyes.” Also resonant in this regard is “Song of Yearning,” which expresses its titular emotion by way of Johnsen’s curlicues. Noteworthy is the simple yet profound drift into the major that sets up Gustavsen’s commentary, recapitulated in this tune’s solo version that steeps the album’s final minutes in the color of prayer.

In the case of Changing Places, one can just as easily hear how much ECM has informed its landscape as how it has informed ECM’s in return. Every motif finds a place to call home and, like the title of “At a Glance,” turns the fleeting into the robustly proportioned.

I hesitate to call an album perfect, but no other adjective will do.

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