Tord Gustavsen: Hymns and Visions

Simin Tander (Photo © John Watson/

Simin Tander (Photo © John Watson/

with Simin Tander and Jarle Vespestad
CBSO Centre, Birmingham UK

The German-Afghan Simin Tander is the singer Tord Gustavsen has been waiting for all his life. The Norwegian pianist has worked with vocalists before, but none has developed the mix of spirituality and sensuousness at the heart of his music as fully as this.

Most of the trio’s programme came from What Was Said, the ECM album released in January (and reviewed here), with two additional tunes: Sorrow And Joy, a Norwegian folk song, and one introduced by Gustavsen as based on “another poem by (Jalal al-Din) Rumi, about drowning”.

If the trio and Gustavsen’s music – a mixture of Norwegian hymns translated into Pashto and Afghan poetry translated into English, with a Kenneth Rexroth poem added – sounded sublime on record, it was a transforming experience live.

Gustavsen has added new technology which enables him to trigger synth bass and other sounds from the Steinway keys. I tried to figure out how he was doing it for a bit before relaxing into that attitude I take with magicians – yep, it must just be magic.

All three musicians are so closely mic’d that a click in Tander’s throat, a glancing finger on a cymbal, a brushed piano key – all come across clearly. But these players can also “let rip”, with Gustavsen at one point as busy and flamboyant over the full 88 keys as I have ever heard him.

Of course ‘letting rip” is not where the heart and soul of this music lies, and for quiet controlled ecstasy, as well as a deeply “in the zone” groove, the pianist, his oldest musical partner and his newest are as good as it gets.

Gustavsen has always worked to a long-term plan, and this feels like a really profound new phase in his music. Those new tunes and the fact that this music and this line-up is probably his best yet augurs well for the future.

I don’t know what the rest of the year holds for my live jazz experiences but I can’t imagine anything bettering this. If you missed it you have my sympathy.

Tord Gustavsen, Simin Tander and Jarle Vespestad (Photo © John Watson/

Tord Gustavsen, Simin Tander and Jarle Vespestad (Photo © John Watson/

Categories: Live review

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1 reply


  1. Hymns and visions: the quiet fire of Tord Gustavsen and Simin Tander – That's How The Light Gets In

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