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Tord Gustavsen: Being There

By Published: April 2, 2008

AAJ: Let's say I give you some ingredients: trees, clouds, sky, birds, water, wind, silence, contemplation... What percentage does it take of each of these to match the feeling of your compositions?

TG: I guess you should rather ask listeners than me. But forced to answer, I would say a large part contemplation, a little water, plus one or two birds and a sky with just a few clouds...

AAJ: I sense a very cinematographic feeling in your music. If you could call a movie director to put it into images what would you like to see?

TG: Difficult question. I sometimes find huge inspiration in watching films, though. And a few years ago I did some work as an improvising pianist with old silent movies at the Norwegian Film Institute, where they showed whole series of some of the most important German and Scandinavian film directors from the 1920s. Yes, I would probably choose one of the old masters to produce images to my music—but then again, they're not alive anymore...

AAJ: A UK newspaper wrote "Gustavsen's tunes are hypnotically strong." Can you comment on this?

TG: Well, basically this is a huge compliment. Even though I don't really pay that much attention to critics, I was very happy when I read that particular statement. Melodic qualities in the music are extremely important to us. And if we are able to let the simple yet subtle tunes shine through with some kind of forcefulness in a seemingly mild musical environment, then we've reached one of our major goals.

AAJ: What is your composing process?

TG: Sometimes very intuitive—a melody just comes along when I'm in the touring bus, in an airport, or out walking; and it's a matter of "catching" it and refining the idea. Other times, ideas come at the piano, and I spend a lot of time juggling the original idea and trying different ways to expand and develop it.

align=center>Tord Gustavsen Trio
Tord Gustavsen Trio l:r: Jarle Vespestad, Tord Gustavsen, Harald Johnsen

AAJ: How do people react to the trio's music live?

TG: It's really fascinating how very different groups of audiences react—we can reach out to jazz "experts," as well as the general lovers of a good melody, as long as they are open for joining our musical journey.

In any case it is a matter of getting into the meditative state with us—we don't use much contrast; most of the tunes are slow in basic tempo and build gradually; the concerts are all about the small details and about concentration. Still, we can be groovy in our own way, and the music is certainly not just melancholy—to me, it embraces all aspects of emotion and life although in a subdued and mostly quiet way.

So, people who demand that a jazz concert should be eighty percent loud and fast, or that meditation on beauty is not possible in modern art music, they probably won't like us that much. But the people who join us can often react very emotionally and intensely—it's a very rewarding thing to talk to people after the concerts sometimes.

AAJ: What can they expect from your concerts?

TG: Apart from what I've already said, it just remains to mention that we will probably be playing tunes from all of our three albums as well as some brand new compositions. Some of tunes will be easily recognizable for people who already have the CDs—where as some will come in quite different versions. The music never stops developing and changing—that's one of the most fascinating things about touring so much with the same band and growing together as a musical organism.

AAJ: What are you looking for in the future with the trio?

Tord Gustavsen TrioTG: We are playing with the trio in Germany, Australia, Italy, Norway, USA, Canada, France, Poland and Belgium this year, in addition to the tour in Portugal—so the trio is still very active.

I've also initiated a new ensemble this year, and a duo with saxophonist Tore Brunborg. And, the trio has also established collaboration with the three fantastic singers in Trio Mediaeval; a very interesting meeting point between classical singers and my composing.

So, what 2009 and the future beyond that holds in terms of recording and further touring remains to be seen...

AAJ: You are involved in musicology, especially in the psychology and phenomenology of improvisation. What have did you find out through your PhD thesis?

TG: That is too big a question to answer in depth here, but I can say in summary that the thesis was about exploring the intense dilemmas or paradoxes in improvisation between the need for simultaneous closeness and distance; for being in-the-moment and shaping music over time; for instant gratification and building tension over time; for combined stimulation and stabilization.

In all these paradoxes, you need to have both sides fully and not get lost in one of the sides, nor end up in a boring, middle of the road, situation—you really need to move dialectically, with synthesis of oppositions.

AAJ: How is jazz doing in Norway?

TG: It's doing quite well—lots of very good bands operating in many different musical directions from free improvisation via modern acoustic jazz to electronica, and also a few people breaking the boundaries between jazz and pop music without sacrificing honesty and artistic integrity.

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