Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 7-9, June 30-July 2, 2010
Since releasing his ECM debut, Changing Places (2003), Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen has been mining an ever-expanding dynamic thatdespite a predilection for slow tempos and generally gentle deliveryhas demonstrated the tremendous power of understatement . On subsequent albums for the venerable German label including The Ground (2005) and Being There (2007)like Changing Places, trio albums featuring bassist Harald Johansen and drummer Jarle VestpestadGustavsen has continued his exploration of the infinite possibilities within a seemingly (but deceptively) limited temporal space, blending elements of gospel with hints of Spanish music, a clear European impressionism and Norwegian traditionalism, all refracted through a prism of the jazz vernacular.
Following Canadian guitarist Gordon Grdina's opening set with Box Cutter, the subtlety and grace of Gustavsen's show was brought into even sharper focus; the two groups as distanced from each other as humanly possible. Grdina's set was largely about high volume and high velocity; Gustavsen's music was often so quiet that it almost became necessary to lean forward to hear it, and the pianist played with elegant restraint and attention to space, only occasionally demonstrating, in an overt fashion, the unfailing virtuosity that underscored his music. Grdina's set was relentless, with few breaks in either pace or dynamics; Gustaven's music was all about careful attention to the spaces between the notes, and the subtlest gradation of tempo and dynamic. Despite exploring very specific musical terrain, Gustavsen's performance was the definition of variationrich in emotion, texture, melody...and spontaneity.
The 80-minute set was a mix of two new compositions, two tracks from Being There (the soft, bittersweet waltz, "Still There," and more energetic, Spanish-tinged "Where We Went," featuring an equally restrained solo from saxophonist Tore Brunborg which, along with Gustavsen's own, threatened to boil over with unsettling tension), and material from Restored, Returned (ECM, 2009), a departure from Gustavsen's earlier trio discs in its expansion to include both Brunborg and singer Kristin Asbjørnsen. For Gustavsen's brief, three-date Canadian tour and first public Ottawa appearancehe delivered a short solo set at the home of the Norwegian ambassador in 2003 for a private audience, before traveling to Montreal the next day for his first ever Canadian appearancethe pianist brought Vespestad, Brunborg, and Restored, Returned bassist Mats Eilertsen.
From left: Tore Brunborg, Jarle Vespestad
Vespestadwho co-founded Supersilent but left the groundbreaking Norwegian noise improv group a couple years back to focus his attention on more specific areaswas, as ever, a player whose touch was light, with complete command of the many colors available to him, on his relatively small and curiously set-up kit. He used a variety of sticksmany of them homemadeto broaden the textural palette and allow him to play with a degree of power while never sacrificing the sense of quiet that Gustavsen's music demanded, with a solo at the end of the set that was the absolute antithesis of typical set-closing drum features. Beginning with just a bass drum and the remarkably varied colors available on but a single cymbal, he gradually built his solo, with occasional bursts of speed made all the more remarkable for his avoidance of the kind of high powered bashing to which most drummers resort. Instead, as was the case with the rest of the set, Vespestad kept his solo brief, but spoke a great deal in that short space.
Brunborg played with even greater restraint than he did two nights previous during his appearance with drummer Manu Katchewhere he did, at least occasionally, demonstrate more overt virtuosity, just as Gustavsen did in this performance. With Jan Garbarek an unmistakable influence in the traditional lilt of his phrasing his and overall tonethough the Norwegian saxophone icon's sound has always been drier and more acerbicBrunborg's presence gave Gustavsen's ensemble a sound not unlike Garbarek's famous quartet with pianist Bobo Stenson, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. But whereas the legendary group that released Dansereeron occasion, even as, at other times, he seemed to be barely breathing on his kit.
Eilertsenno stranger to ECM fans for his ongoing work with guitarist Jacob Young on albums like the sublime Evening Falls (ECM, 2004), but equally, a player demonstrating a greater capacity for sonic violence at Crimetime Orchestra's at 2009 performance at Molde Jazz, and a bassist who is slowly building his own discography, including Radio Yonder (Hubro, 2009) , also featuring Brunborgproved himself cut from the same cloth as the rest of his band mates. Possessing a rich, robust toneall the more remarkable given the absolute quiet of the groupEilertsen combined unusual techniques with a legato approach built on ascending glissandi for his opening a capella solo to a new tune, "Internal Dance." That it appears to be de rigueur for Norwegian groups to travel with their own soundmanrather than take a chance with one provided by the festivalonly meant that Gustavsen was able to achieve as consistent a sound as possible, within any limitations of the venue or the piano provided.
As ever, Gustavsen was a soft-spoken but commanding presence; head down, left foot tapping the ground hard in time, with his body moving and occasionally even lifting off the piano bench as he dug into a long, lyrical and serpentine phrasenot unlike one of his seminal influences, Keith Jarrett, but without the loud groaning and, unsurprisingly, considerably more restraint. For the capacity crowdpeople being turned away, but many remaining in the foyer of the Fourth Stage to watch Gustavsen's performance on a television monitorGustavsen's first Ottawa appearance was eagerly anticipated, and the pianist and his group delivered exactly what the audience had hoped for, and more. Hopefully the festival will bring him back again, but put him in a larger venue to support the audience he has gradually built over the last seven years.
Coming up on the final two days of the 2010 TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival: The Wide Alley, Neil Cowley Trio, Christian Scott and Tomasz Stanko
Visit radio.string.quartet.vienna, Tord Gustavsen and TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.
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