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Live Reviews

Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010: Days 7-9, June 30-July 2, 2010

By Published: July 4, 2010
July 2: Tord Gustavsen Ensemble

Since releasing his ECM debut, Changing Places (2003), Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen
Tord Gustavsen
Tord Gustavsen
b.1970
piano
has been mining an ever-expanding dynamic that—despite a predilection for slow tempos and generally gentle delivery—has 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 Vestpestad—Gustavsen 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
Gordon Grdina
Gordon Grdina
b.1977
guitar
'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 variation—rich 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
Tore Brunborg
Tore Brunborg
b.1960
saxophone
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 appearance—he 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 appearance—the pianist brought Vespestad, Brunborg, and Restored, Returned bassist Mats Eilertsen
Mats Eilertsen
Mats Eilertsen
b.1975
bass
.

From left: Tore Brunborg, Jarle Vespestad

Vespestad—who co-founded Supersilent but left the groundbreaking Norwegian noise improv group a couple years back to focus his attention on more specific areas—was, 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 sticks—many of them homemade—to 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 Katche
Manu Katche
Manu Katche
b.1958
drums
—where he did, at least occasionally, demonstrate more overt virtuosity, just as Gustavsen did in this performance. With Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
Jan Garbarek
b.1947
sax, tenor
an unmistakable influence in the traditional lilt of his phrasing his and overall tone—though the Norwegian saxophone icon's sound has always been drier and more acerbic—Brunborg's presence gave Gustavsen's ensemble a sound not unlike Garbarek's famous quartet with pianist Bobo Stenson
Bobo Stenson
Bobo Stenson
b.1944
piano
, bassist Palle Danielsson
Palle Danielsson
Palle Danielsson
b.1946
bass, acoustic
and drummer Jon Christensen
Jon Christensen
Jon Christensen
b.1943
drums
. But whereas the legendary group that released Dansereer—on occasion, even as, at other times, he seemed to be barely breathing on his kit.

Eilertsen—no stranger to ECM fans for his ongoing work with guitarist Jacob Young
Jacob Young
Jacob Young
b.1970
guitar
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 Brunborg—proved himself cut from the same cloth as the rest of his band mates. Possessing a rich, robust tone—all the more remarkable given the absolute quiet of the group—Eilertsen 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 soundman—rather than take a chance with one provided by the festival—only meant that Gustavsen was able to achieve as consistent a sound as possible, within any limitations of the venue or the piano provided.

Mats Eiltertsen

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 phrase—not unlike one of his seminal influences, Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
, but without the loud groaning and, unsurprisingly, considerably more restraint. For the capacity crowd—people being turned away, but many remaining in the foyer of the Fourth Stage to watch Gustavsen's performance on a television monitor—Gustavsen'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
Neil Cowley
Neil Cowley
b.1972
piano
Trio, Christian Scott
Christian Scott
Christian Scott
b.1983
trumpet
and Tomasz Stanko
Tomasz Stanko
Tomasz Stanko
b.1942
trumpet


Visit radio.string.quartet.vienna, Tord Gustavsen and TD Ottawa International Jazz Festival on the web.

Photo Credits

Page 1, radio.string.quartet.vienna: John R. Fowler

Page 1, Bernie Mallinger: John Kelman

Page 2, Tord Gustavsen: John R. Fowler

Page 2, All Other Photos: John Kelman

Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9 | Days 10-11


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