Album review: Tord Gustavsen Trio – The Other Side (ECM)

Tord Gustavsen Trio – The Other Side (ECM)

Transcendent tunes

There are a number of ways to achieve inner peace but one of the most enjoyable options is to listen to the trio albums made by pianist Tord Gustavsen. The first three of these came out between 2003 and 2007 and they established the Norwegian as a musician of unusual emotional intelligence, for him “it’s about touching people in the way that I like to be touched in music”. He is a master at communicating warmth and serenity and his return to a trio line up will be welcomed by discerning music lovers the world over. Gustavsen has not been idle in the intervening 11 years, he has been playing with a different, bigger, and on 2016’s What Was Said went so far as to include actual songs. One reason for the gap is that Harald Johnson, the bass player from Gustavsen’s original trio died in 2007 so a change was necessary, but now he has decided its “time to bring the piano back as the lead voice”.

There is something inherently balanced about a piano trio, it seems to be the perfect amount of musicians if you want to improvise and create a coherent and engaging result that puts the music before the egos. And when the musicians are Gustavsen, his long time drummer Jarle Vespestad and double bass player Sigurd Hole something magic happens, they produce sounds that elevate the listener and takes them to a higher plane. The degree to which this happens depends on the individual pieces, some are inevitably more powerful than others, but usually the quieter the playing the greater the effect. On The Other Side this is obvious on the opener The Tunnel where the band sketches out the tune and the rhythm leaving space for the listener to fill in the gaps, it’s not sparse or cool, quite the contrary this music is very warm but in an open and unfettered way. Several of the pieces on this album are by classical composers and these provide contrast to Gustavsen’s ethereal inclinations, Bach provides the groove behind Schlafes Bruder or at least he inspires Vespestad to do so on the drums, the piano works around the theme and weaves the spell that draws you in while the bass provides a subtle counterpoint.

The highlights are definitely the totally original compositions which make up half of the dozen tracks, of these Duality is a standout, it’s typically effortless and soft but unusually features synthesiser albeit in a low key fashion, providing a backdrop to the sparkling piano and quiet rhythms. Bach’s Jesu, meine freud creates an alternative form of contemplation and one which slowly morphs into Gustavsen’s interpretation of a traditional Norwegian tune that unfurls with beautiful bass harmonies and shimmering piano. There is power in the slightly grandiose O Traurigkeit and perfect timing behind the hopeful Curves that rounds off the album. As well as being beautiful music this is a very fine recording with lots of space and super silent backgrounds, it’ll sound fabulous on your headphones but will lift your soul on a big system.

Jason Kennedy


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