Tord Gustavsen Quartet

The Tord Gustavsen Quartet at the Arena Theatre last night (Photo © John Watson/

The Tord Gustavsen Quartet at the Arena Theatre last night (Photo © John Watson/

Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton, UK

Of course there is always more to music than just the notes and chords and beat and rhythm. There is the effect that all those audio-physical phenomena have upon the listener – the body, the brain, or, a more tricky thing to try to explain, the heart.

If there is one group currently operating in the jazz arena that strives more intensely than most to strengthen that particular link between music and the emotional/spiritual life it must be this one. The Norwegian pianist goes deeper and deeper into this territory with each of his recordings and each of his performances, and he has just the right people in drummer Jarle Vespestad, saxophonist Tore Brunborg and bassist Mats Eilertsen to accompany and assist him in this quest.

Last night’s concert in the intimate and packed Arena Theatre wasn’t just another jazz event for me – it was the continuation of what has felt like a really intimate “friendship” over more than a decade, beginning when I first heard a Silje Nergaard album in 2001 – the Gustavsen Trio was the band.

This “friendship” is a virtual one, I must stress. I don’t know Tord Gustavsen personally, though I have had the privilege of driving him and Jarle Vespestad while working for the Cheltenham Jazz Festival back in 2004, spent an evening dining and drinking with them and the late Harald Johnsen at the 2005 Lichfield Festival, and have since interviewed Tord once. No, the real relationship between us is that unreal one – the kind that happens, mysteriously, in the sound waves.

I am not alone. Alison Vermee, who has also been an avid Gustavsen fan for a long time, bringing him to Much Wenlock a number of times and now to Wolverhampton, tells me that after such a concert she gets emails from the audience telling her what it means to them. They feel the need to share the experience, she says.

So, what about the music? It was mostly from the Quartet’s recently released album Extended Circle (CD review here) bookended by former Trio pieces. Tord described how “this organism” as he called the band, “keeps evolving” and so the tunes evolve too. Extended Circle‘s opener, Right There, was a powerful introduction to the new music and how richly integrated these four musicians have become.

The Embrace was, as the bandleader said, “our attempt to play in the major [key] – it’s really difficult!” It didn’t sound as if the band was having difficulties – Brunborg gave full vent to the soul-music end of his soulfulness – and in fact the band has increasingly been able to balance its elegiac, contemplative demeanour with passages of pretty unabashed exuberance.

Passion and exuberance of a more Nordic and spiritual strain were to be found at the climax of the concert’s highpoint, their interpretation of the Norwegian traditional hymn played, I am led to understand, at funerals, Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg (I know a castle in heaven). Against thrummed bass and skittering cymbals, Gustavsen and Brunborg traded lines of such intense lyrical beauty that the whole epidermis prickled. An unrecorded piece, The Mission, first performed in Portland, Oregon, during the band’s just completed US visit, and Devotion were other rich experiences.

At the end, before Vicar Street made a fitting encore, Tord invited us to applaud not only the band but also its “fifth member”, David Solheim. David is the band’s sound engineer and I can put my hand on my heart – a heart still swelled with the whole experience – and say I have never heard a concert sound as fine as this one. The applause was fulsome.

A truly transcendent evening.

Categories: Live review

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4 replies

  1. Peter I missed you at the gig but share your feelings for the music.

  2. I get the impression that the reaction has been similar at all their UK gigs, it certainly was in Birmingham. The quartet has retained its gentle and mesmerising intensity, but added an openness and energy to its live performances.

  3. I can echo all your sentiments … looking forward to the concert in Mainz, Germany on March, 29. Here in Germany the Wagnerians wish each-other a “erbauliche Andacht” (uplifting devotion/meditation) at a Wagner opera. I feel similar when it comes to Tord Gustavsen evenings …


  1. Reflections on Wolverhampton | Tish Farrell

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