Concert review: Tord Gustavsen Ensemble

Tord Gustavsen talks to thejazzbreakfast – see Across the table

How Tord starts the day – see Jazz breakfasts

CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK

When Miles Davis was recording his Sketches of Spain album with Gil Evans, he reportedly said of one Moorish theme they had been working on: “That melody is so strong that the softer you play it the stronger it gets…”

Tord Gustavsen writes melodies like that. His band – Gustavsen on piano, Tore Brunborg on saxophones, Jarle Vespestad on drums and Mats Eilertsen on double bass – began with one of the most beautiful of them from Gustavsen’s trio repertoire, Tears Transforming, and followed it with another, The Child Within, the opener from the Ensemble’s new disc, Restored, Returned (ECM). The mastery and control of their instruments the band need  to play this quiet and meticulous music up close is immense, and all four appear quite comfortable and relaxed despite these demands.

Russ Escritt's Pic of the week: Jarle Vespestad

Russ Escritt's Pic of the week: Jarle Vespestad

A friend had voiced moderate concern that the addition of saxophone to Gustavsen’s quiet and subtle music would somehow spoil it – a few notes from Brunborg and such misgivings were dispelled. He manages to combine warmth and richness of tone with precision of  articulation in a compelling way. Gustavsen pointed out, in his thejazzbreakfast interview, how all the members of the band, even master drummer Jarle Vespestad, are melodists, and so it is: lines of improvised tunes weaving in and out, whether Eilertsen’s perfectly placed upper register bass counter-melodies, Brunborg’s always lyrical solos, Vespestad’s cymbal scrapes and tom-tom phrases, or the leader’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of freshly created songs. (Were he not so articulate in conversation I would have to believe his head too filled with melody to have room left over for thought.)

As on the new album, the concert was woven through with what Gustavsen calls “left over lullabies”, gentle, calming music in one sense though with the knowledge of experience behind it to suggest that the day before this call to sleep has not been without its rigours and difficulties.

The gospel and blues feel is still there in the music, as is a North African desert strain in a new song called The Gaze. And the creativity continues with as yet untitled tunes being included in the set. Lest all the references to quiet and lullabies give a limited view, it must be said also that this band expands the dynamics of the trio considerably, and the always strong groove beneath the surface gets an even wider showing here, especially in Gustavsen’s own solos.

This was only the second live performance proper by this quartet, and it continues around the country for the rest of the month before moving home to Norway in November. That we were among the first to be able to hear this band live only added to the excitement and anticipation of the full house on Saturday evening, and I suspect they left with all their hopes fulfilled – and then some!

Tue 20 Oct  LEEDS, College of Music, The Venue


Thu 22 Oct  OXFORD, Jacqueline du Pré Music Building

Fri 23 Oct    SOUTHAMPTON, Turner Sims Concert Hall

Sat 24 Oct   NOTTINGHAM, Djanogly Recital Hall, Lakeside Arts Centre

Sun 25 Oct  BRISTOL, St George’s

Sat 21 Nov LONDON, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Categories: Live review

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2 replies

  1. I was at the QEH on Staurday and you’ve hit the nail right on the head. The support from Jason Yarde + Andrew McCormack, while skillful and impressive immediately paled after the first 30 seconds of TD’s set. A quartet’s ability to play so quietly and sensitively is a hard act to pull off, and they did it in spades.
    Add to this TD’s ability to coax of folk tunes and hymns into heartbreaking melodies that really can bring tears to my eyes, and you had a treat way above expectations (I, too, was worried that a sax might crush the subtleties).
    Brilliant stuff


  1. Birmingham Jazz » Blog Archive » Thoughts on Tord Gustavsen in Birmingham

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