Tord Gustavsen: What was said (ECM 2465)

What was said

Tord Gustavsen
What was said

Tord Gustavsen piano, electronics, synth bass
Simin Tander voice
Jarle Vespestad drums
Recorded April 2015 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: January 29, 2016

After leaving behind the phosphorescent crumbs of his era-defining trio recordings, Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen returns to ECM’s forest path alongside drummer Jarle Vespestad and holding a fresher lantern lit by German-Afghan vocalist Simin Tander. Gustavsen expands his palette, adding electronics and synth bass to the mix, while Tander renders her voice with lyrical and improvisational force. Taking the hymns of Gustavsen’s childhood as foundation, he and Tander enlisted the help of Afghan poet B. Hamsaaya to translate them into Pashto before balancing them with Rumi in the freer English translations of Coleman Barks. The verbal archive of Rumi-inspired American writer Kenneth Rexroth was also mined for jewels to be set in the yielding silver of the present arrangements. On that latter note, Rexroth’s “I Refuse” comes across as the album’s spiritual culmination, standing firm against the tide of history even as it imbibes itself on forgotten knowledge. Tander’s rendering thereof illustrates a life cycle of its own worth: from the pupa of suggestion to the chrysalis of accountability and finally a winged emergence of liberation.

Like fog resolving into a discernible landscape, the verses chosen for this program strip away layers of hardship to reveal the light of hope buried within. This is especially true of the Rumi selections. In “Your Grief,” Gustavsen’s melody unwraps the Sufi poet’s observational acumen as a lover would a seam of clothing, revealing not a physical but a spiritual body in which beats a heart of ephemeral loss. “What Was Said To The Rose” is a another sonic blush of whispered thoughts and corporeal singing, while “The Source Of Now” employs gentle brushwork—both literally in Vespestad’s playing and metaphorically in the sentiments—and all of it connected by an aquatic singing style.

What was seen

That the Norwegian hymns feel as integrated as they do is testament not only to the musicians but also to a shared continuity. “I See You” is thus more than an ode to our heavenly Mother and Father, but a locket of understanding that houses Tander’s voice as an earthly relic. Her subtle adlibbing is as tangible as stained glass, and equally mosaiced. The piano intro of “A Castle In Heaven” evokes that other spiritual stalwart of ECM—G. I. Gurdjieff—by clearing away ancient paths of virtue. Starting with the vigil-like awareness of “Journey Of Life” and finishing in the shaded alcove of “Sweet Melting Afterglow,” a veritable church of sound opens its pews to any and all who would bend a knee between them.

Even the album’s instrumental turns feel syntactical. Both the tender duo of Gustavsen and Vespestad that is “The Way You Play My Heart” and the playful awakening of “Rull” realize that speech is nothing without music, and vice versa. And so, what was said is also what was sung, pushed like air through lungs, throat, and mouth to turn the very ether into writing paper and our ears into eyes reading every word as if it were our last.

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