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Catching Up With

Tord Gustavsen: The Richness of Simplicity

By Published: March 31, 2012
AAJ: How do themes like "Tears Transforming" or "Circling" come into being?

TG: Of course, when you compose all the influences are at work. These themes have a lot of Scandinavian folk and gospel music. But then, for them to come together there is a portion of the uncontrollable there. Sometimes a theme can arise seemingly out of nothing or out of the inspiration of playing the piano or hearing something the other musicians do. Other themes arise out of very specific events in life. It can be closely related to tragedies or to joys. At other times there are no direct links like that. The two themes mentioned by you are in my personal biography on the opposite ends of that scale. "Tears Transforming" was composed after a big tragedy in my life and in the middle of the process of learning how to go through grief instead of trying to run away from it. You have to go through grief in order to come out with some dignity and some grounding. It may hurt you more but in the long run it makes you a whole person. "Circling" was composed at a sound-check, based on a more casual type of inspiration. Certainly everything that happens in life is always there, nearer to or farther from the surface.

AAJ: Do you like Chopin?

TG: I do indeed, and I know what you mean. "The Prelude" was something I almost didn't want to bring out, but it just forced its way through. It is also very much linked to the way we usually perform concerts. I like to open up the soundscape by very minimalist playing and by a radical type of listening, to the room, to the instruments, to the sounds and the space between them. Almost all of our concerts have some kinds of prelude and I really like that. For me it is also something like a link to the ritual of the liturgy, I think a concert should be a lot like a Gottesdienst [Divine Service], where you enter and get some kind of purification. You can go there with your entire being and be lifted. It can be a place to cry or a place to say thank you. A place where you can feel that life is bigger than all the small annoying details. I like to feel a little bit like that during a concert, like being part of a non-dogmatic service.

AAJ: Would you describe your composition as narrative?

TG: That's a very interesting question. A philosophical one, I should say. I think our kind of jazz music is really balancing between music as a state of being, as energy circling, where the important thing is just to be in the energy. The other polarity is music as a narrative, unfolding from the beginning to the end, with a building and a release of tension.

All of this is what you normally connect with the classical composition, whereas the other polarity is connected to folk music—African music, for instance—where the groove goes on and on regardless of structure, and the important thing is the intensity, and being inside the groove. Again, both extremes of this scale have to be there to a very high degree in order for me to be satisfied. What we do is art music and it can be analyzed as such, but it can also be a state of being opening up every moment rather than a story unfolding, that you can contemplate from afar.

That would be one kind of answer to your question. But if you approach it more like "do our tunes deal with something specific?" then the answer is predominantly no, because it is principally open to any interpretation. Any listener's conception of our music will be true for that listener, and it is important not to try and close that. If we wanted to describe a mountain or a river we would take a picture of it. Music is a lot richer than that. Still, I guess you could say that our music is a lot about breathing space and about finding yourself and getting strength from stillness, and to move on and dare to be who you are.

Selected Discography

Tord Gustavsen Quartet, The Well (ECM, 2012)

Tord Gustavsen Ensemble, Restored, Returned (ECM, 2009)

Tord Gustavsen Trio, Being There (ECM, 2007)

Ana Maria Jopek, Id (Izabelin, 2007)

Kristin Asbjørnsen, Factotum (Milan, 2006)

Tord Gustavsen Trio, The Ground (ECM, 2005)

Silje Nergaard, Nightwatch (Emarcy/Universal, 2004)

Stian Carstensen, Backwards into the Backwoods (Winter & Winter, 2004)

Tord Gustavsen Trio, Changing Places (ECM, 2003)

Photo Credits

Page 1: Hans Fredrik Asbjørnsen

Page 2: Richard Wayne


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