Since its 2003 ECM debut Changing Places
, pianist Tord Gustavsen's trio has gradually been working its way out of a core concept that initially mined a surprising and remarkable wealth of what, on first glance, appeared to be a limited scope of tempo and dynamic. Like an ever-expanding series of concentric circles, Gustavsen, bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vesperstad have evolved their approach, introducing greater breadth so subtly that, unless one listens to previous albums including The Ground
(ECM, 2005), one might think that little has changed.
To say that Being There
is the trio's most extroverted album yet, still needs to be contextualized within the framework that has defined the group since its inception. The opener, "At Home," possesses the same slow-tempo melancholy so prominent on Changing Places
, with Vespestad continuing to approach his kit so gently that, rather than striking it, he almost seems to be breathing on it. But within the first thirty seconds of "Vicar Street" it's clear that the trio is entering new territory. More rhythmically insistent, and with an opening vamp occupying nearly half the tune before Gustavsen's ever-lyrical theme emerges, it's not exactly aggressive, but it's clearly a more assertive stance for this typically understated group.
That's not to suggest that the trio's attention to nuance has been abandoned. It is, in fact, their keen attention to space, dynamic and tempo (which for many would be nearly imperceptible shifts) that speaks so powerfully. Still, while Gustavsen has long been influenced by the sounds of gospel, blues and the music of New Orleans, he's not previously written a piece as plainly funky as "Blessed Feet," or as energized as the Spanish-tinged "Where We Went." Being There
is the first album to feature writing by someone other than Gustavsen, although it's clear that Johnsen, who contributes the bittersweet "Karmosin," is no less melodically-minded. There's a tempo to be found, but the trio approaches it so elastically and with such avoidance of the obvious, that it's barely felt.
A trio that so steadfastly avoids overt displays of virtuosity might challenge the more literal-minded to question its garnered acclaim. As silence can sometimes speak as loudly as thunder, and insofar as careful elaboration of melody can be just as compelling as more vivid expansion, Gustavsen's trio makes a clear case for the elusive power of restraint. Consistently beautiful while evocatively resonant on a larger scale, Being There
finds the trio continuing to develop its distinctive aesthetic, where the spaces between the notes have equal value to the notes themselves.