Tord Gustavsen Quartet
Tord Gustavsen piano
Tore Brunborg tenor saxophone
Mats Eilertsen double bass
Jarle Vespestad drums
Recorded June 2013 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen’s sixth ECM album concludes his second trilogy for the label, this in a quartet setting with saxophonist Tore Brunborg on tenor, bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Jarle Vespestad. Gustavsen’s—and producer Manfred Eicher’s—sense of timing and sequence is more crystalline than ever, yielding a crossroads of melody and circumstance that will be at once familiar and progressive to seasoned listeners.
“Right There” bids gentle welcome in trio, Eiltersen’s melodic tracery standing out early on for its unforced hand. It’s a fitting introduction to one of Gustavsen’s most indistinctly distinct efforts to date, ending as it does with a question answered by the 11 tracks that follow. The Norwegian hymn “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg” (A Castle in Heaven) adds Brunborg’s tenor into the mix, one voice capping a rising tide of them. Vespestad’s underlying propulsions emphasize the theme’s airiness with their scuffling groove. “Entrance” is a free improvisation based on elements that have previously caught the band’s working orbit. Brunborg and Gustavsen work off each other’s nerve impulses down a spinal helix. And in a variation of the same track, Eilertsen provides a tactile foundation for the divine considerations therein, allowing Brunborg to unchain himself from the congregation.
“The Gift” and the album’s remaining tunes embody everything that makes Gustavsen’s writing exactly that: an offering to those who would listen without prejudice. This is a characteristically slow-motion spelunk for the trio, who as a unit express what only individuals in harmony can. With a touch worthy of an archaeologist, Gustavsen and his bandmates unearth one geode after another but leave them unbroken, so that their inner jewels become the subject of contemplation rather than of material obsession. “Staying There” evokes the title of the trio’s Being There, preaching but also practicing a gradation of continuity between projects, eras, and spaces of development. Brunborg’s melodizing, in combination with the rhythm section’s oceanic support and Gustavsen’s tidal comping, gives depth of voice to the music’s heartland.
“Silent Spaces” is one of two solos. This one is from Gustavsen and calculates an inter-dimensional telemetry, whereby distances are measured by angles between notes, by that which remains unsung. Eilertsen’s solo “Bass Transition” is likewise a ladder disappearing into cloudy sky.
“Devotion” rearranges a choral piece Gustavsen was commissioned to write in a liturgical context. In its present form, the music sings by inhaling. More of the trio’s classic dynamics bleed through in “The Embrace,” expanded by the soulful gilding of Brunborg’s bell. But even this one—and this is the magic of Gustavsen’s art—has sacred overtones, stemming from a faith in the sounds. That said, the full quartet achieves a unique balance of structure and substance in “Glow,” across which each musician glides like the blade of a skate on a frozen pond: their coming together produces only the smoothest pathways of travel. All of which leaves “The Prodigal Song.” This bittersweet letter draws its signature in forest ink and proves yet again that Gustavsen ends every album by extending another circle into the unknown. For just when you think it couldn’t get any more beautiful, it swings around and taps you on the shoulder.
(To hear samples of Extended Circle, click here.)