Tord Gustavsen Trio: Being There (ECM 2017)

Being There

Tord Gustavsen Trio
Being There

Tord Gustavsen piano
Harald Johnsen double-bass
Jarle Vespestad drums
Recorded December 2006 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

There’s no mistaking a Tord Gustavsen Trio record. Intimate in measure yet profound in scope, each builds on the last like another level of a pyramid built from the capstone down. In this manner Being There follows Changing Places and The Ground as the last of a trilogy, though it is by no means the be all and end all of the trio’s capabilities. There’s so much to admire on Being There that one could see its vessel off contentedly were it never to return to shore. If the album’s title sounds familiar, that’s because it comes by way of a tune off The Ground. But this baker’s dozen casts two forward glances for every backward, always moving toward the goal of utter respect: for the notecraft, for the sound, for the moment.

Those who subscribe to the stereotype of contemplative Nordic jazz will be both rewarded and pleasantly surprised. On the one hand, there is “At Home,” which begins the album, as it has often done for the trio’s stage sets, with honed lyric intensity and lullaby charm. The brushed ruminations of Gustavsen’s bandmates—bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad—buoy the pianist on inky currents. The downtempo mood holds true for much of the album’s hymnody, taking fullest (which is to say, spacious) form in the anthemic “Still There” and the veiled “Vesper.” With barest touch but also viable emotional weight, the trio moves further through the balladic changes of “Around You” and “Draw Near” with an embrace so warm that three become one. Each is a profession of faith in love through love of faith, drifting a hair’s breadth from the divine in “Sani.” This duet for piano and drums describes a blown feather. Free of wing in its own dream of flight, it wanders along a quiet storm’s path. These slower songs take full advantage of the acoustics, both live and post-processed, and build to a density of expression that nevertheless allows room to breathe. It’s as if the trio explores knots in wood, each a galaxy waiting to be sung. In them Gustavsen paints flowering worlds with every keystroke, as he does especially in the melodic orbit of “Karmosin” (penned by Johnsen and the only track not by the pianist) and the solo improvised “Interlude.” The latter is the modal hip at which the album flexes. Poetry flows from its deference, clear as sunlight on a river, across a brittle page, which is then folded, sealed, and held above a burning candle.

While much of the album is suited to closed-eye listening, there are a few breaks in the waves. Between the swooping wingspan of “Vicar Street” and the uplifting “Where We Went,” there is “Blessed Feet,” a masterful and obvious nod to Keith Jarrett. This swinging number proves Gustavsen a magician at the keyboard, by which he, ever the melodic herdsman, corrals every note in formation. Even the lethargic clouds of “Cocoon” abide by structural principles, at once conscious and free.

Yet it is on the waters of “Wide Open” that the trio finds what it’s been looking for: a step into the future, as yet unknown, with eyes fixed on the horizon. Where the album opened at home, here it ends with a homecoming. And it is in your home that this music belongs, right there on the shelf next to your most prized discs.

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