Tord Gustavsen Quartet: The Well (ECM 2237)

The Well

Tord Gustavsen Quartet
The Well

Tore Brunborg tenor saxophone
Tord Gustavsen piano
Mats Eilertsen double bass
Jarle Vespestad drums
Recorded February 2011 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

After the trio with whom he crafted a classic trilogy for ECM, Tord Gustavsen returns with his quartet, adding tenorist Tore Brunborg to the nexus of bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad in a unit that has since become the core vessel of the Norwegian pianist-composer’s sonic dousing. Hence, The Well. This self-styled liturgical journey nurtures Gustavsen’s church music roots and thus deepens the spiritual edges of his rendering.

Gustavsen Quartet

Gustavsen cites the title track, part of a lion’s share of full quartet tunes, as a cornerstone of the set. Its groove emerges among a concentric wave of orbits as Eilertsen flings his satellite far into the darkness and Gustavsen emotes dustily to avoid impeding Brunborg’s signals. Such egalitarianism is part and parcel of the band’s streamlined dynamics, which from “Prelude” to the drum-less “Inside” weave bassing, percussing, and reeding into a basket of watertight beauty.

Song titles (for these pieces do indeed “sing”) indicate larger joints and ligaments beyond their immediate contexts. Whether through the oceanic, Byzantine enchantments of “Communion” and its variation or the soulful farewell of “Intuition,” a simplicity of vocabulary allows the listener to wander the band’s environs without fear of getting snagged by thorn or bramble, for here is a forest cleared of its dangers and replanted until every tree feels acknowledged.

Simplicity further infuses two trio tracks, which refer back to the earlier ECM works while also transcending them. “Playing” finds Vespestad grounding a softly popping current. Engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug fronts the drums here toward a balance of density and openness that is the trio’s signature. Eilertsen echoes in whispering ways, leaving Gustavsen to unravel his catch-and-release improvising. The inward blues of “Circling” is a kindred signpost, forging melody through rhythm and rhythm through inflection. It’s a reminder of just how complete the band felt before a saxophone was welcomed into its midst. But then, we encounter tracks “Suite” and “On Every Corner,” in which Brunborg’s non-invasive lines are the shuttle to the loom. With cinematic charge, he navigates a seeming crowd of pedestrians on his way toward solace.

And like Gustavsen’s solo “Glasgow Intro,” that is exactly what this album provides: a shelter for contemplation in a current that never ceases to pull at our sleeves.

(To hear samples of The Well, click here.)

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