"Auckland by Numbers" and "Duke's Anthem" needn't suggest, however, that the set was largely defined by its ballads. Fowler's "Timpanogos," Steve Gadd Band
's closing track, was this evening's second, a somewhat Latin-inflected composition that may have possessed a relaxed, ambling groove, but intimated at greater power to come later in the set. Between Fowler and Landau's similarly tasty timbres defining the melody and Hays' Fender Rhodes solo just one of many impressive features for this often overlooked pianist, it also demonstrated a rare quality that defined the entire group. More often than not, when a musician writes a song it's meant as a feature for him/herself. And while it's true that Fowler did, indeed, improvise towards the end of the song, it was clearly all in service of the song.
The attention to rhythm and feel may have suggested music that was, in fact, deceptive at its core, with plenty of sophistication to be found but couched in ways that made it completely accessible. Still, Larry Goldings' closing "Sly Boots," from 70 Strong
, made clear just how effortlessly the entire band could play with time. Alternating between a driving 6/4 pulse and 4/4 rhythm that, with the same underlying tempo, shifted the feel significantly, it was an exhilarating set-closer that, following solos over its riff-driven vamp, led to a closing Gadd solo that closed the main set with a major climax. From initial explorations of the potential of a single snare drum to subsequent thundering toms, reminiscent of his '70s work with Chick Corea
on Polydor albums like 1974's The Leprechaun
(in particular, "Nite Sprite") and 1978's The Mad Hatter
, it would be unfair to suggest that Gadd saves the best for last. Still, he certainly knew how to bring a set to a definitive conclusion.
Still, Montréal audiences are known for their enthusiasm, and this night was no different. Just about lifting the roof off Monument-National, it was clear that there would be no way for Gadd not
to return for an encore, the band delivering something completely unexpected: a take on Bob Dylan
's minor hit, "Watching the River Flow," initially released as a single only, but subsequently included on the iconic singer/songwriter's Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits Vol. II
(Columbia, 1971) and later included on the bonus discs in the The Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1
(Columbia/Legacy, 2013) megabox, it was a feature for Hays...the singer.
Hays proved a more-than-capable singer whose bluesier approach had little to do with Dylan's inimitable vocalizing; it also turned into a swinging, walking blues for Landau's final (and, yet again, impressive) solo of the night and a feature from Hays where he scatted along with his grand piano lines. The song was firmly anchored by Johnson's unshakable yet ambling lines and Gadd, who did more with the bell of his ride cymbal, a bass drum and a snare than many drummers do with massive drum kits.
Gadd's kit was, in fact, relative basic, with his snare (he kept a couple onstage), high hat and medium-sized bass drum augmented by two rack toms and one floor tom, in addition to four additional cymbals. Not a small jazz kit, to be sure, but still a more modest one than used by many. Gadd also had an electric metronome onstage to his left, where he'd dial in the precise tempo for each song in an earphone, before counting in the band. While there can be a certain excitement generated by counting a song in with an approximation of the tempo used, say, on a recording, it's also a crapshoot, sometime just too slow or fast enough to completely lose the groove,
With Gadd and his band so deeply committed to feel
, to dynamics ranging from subtle to more dramatic, and from solo approaches that favored tone, spontaneous compositional form and the value of space (which made any move towards greater virtuosity all the more dramatic), it's no surprise that Gadd wanted to make sure the tempo was precisely what it needed to be.
It was a stunning performance from a group of veterans with nothing to prove but still plenty to say. Whether they were drummers, bassists (sitting beside Canadian singer Nikki Yanovsky's current bassist), horn players, keyboardists or guitarists, or whether they were simply fans of one of the last half century's greatest drummers, the Steve Gadd Band delivered for its audience on all fronts...and then some.
Tord Gustavsen Trio
June 28, 2019, 6:00PM
If Steve Gadd's show was, amongst other things, a clear lesson in the value of dynamics, Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen
's early evening performance at the exceptional Gesù venue was an even deeper, more sublime exploration of dynamics and the greater potential of relatively slow tempos. As a roughly 400-seat theater inside a church that has great sight lines and is one of the best sounding venues used by FIJM, it was the perfect venue for the pianist, no stranger to FIJM but who hasn't come with a trio in eleven years,
Gustavsen was one of the third wave of Norwegian artists, also including Nils Petter Molvaer
, Trygve Seim
, Trio Mediaeval
and Frode Haltli
and given broader international, exposure by Munich's ECM Records, first emerging in 2003 with Changing Places
. One of the label's more successful artists of the new millennium, Gustavsen's résumé reaches farther back, including work with singers Kristin Asbjørnsen
, Solveig Slettahjell
and Silje Nergaard
When he emerged on ECM with Changing Places
in 2003 however, he immediately established a reputation for himself as a pianist exploring a narrow area of tempo and a range of dynamics so subtle that just the slightest elevation was surprisingly dramatic. While these characteristics might seem limiting for some, Gustavsen's primary touchstones, including Norwegian folk music and hymns, European classicism, American gospel music and the nexus between Caribbean music and New Orleans jazz, provided the pianist a firm foundation over which he and his trio could slowly evolve.
Gustavsen, double bassist Harald Johnsen (tragically, passing away in 2011 at the too-young age of 41) and drummer Jarle Vespestad
slowly expanded their purview into newer terrain on 2005's The Ground
and 2007's Being There
, the trio's growth not unlike the expanding ripples from a stone thrown into a pond.
That a subsequent album with his quartet (featuring, in addition to Vespestad, double bassist Mats Eilertsen
and saxophonist Tore Brunborg
) was titled Extended Circles
(ECM, 2014) came as really no surprise to any familiar with the pianist. It was, indeed. is as clear a definition of Gustavsen's overall approach to slowly building upon the new ground covered with each successive release.
Whether interpreting music ranging from Johan Sebastian Bach to the late Leonard Cohen
, cresting spontaneous compositions drawn from the ether or contributing his own darkly lyrical compositions, Gustavsen's playing has also evolved over his nearly two-decade relationship with ECM. Never one to rely on overt, excessive virtuosity, he"s nevertheless a masterful player capable of more expansive, prodigious displays, but only on occasion and only when it feels right. His control over dynamicsnot just going from a whisper to a roar but with inflections that are all the more dramatic for their nuanced subtletyhas become even more focused, more firmly controlled over the years. And if he began to introduce subtle electronics into the mix just a few short years ago, not unlike many other Norwegian musicians including Arve Henriksen
, Eivind Aarset
and Hakon Kornstad
, they've gradually become a natural extension of the grand piano that is his main instrument: more like a physical extension of his body, his mind and his soul.
With The Ofher Side
(ECM, 2018) representing his first trio album since Being There
(but releasing four additional recordings featuring different lineups in the years between them), and with Johnsen now gone, Gustavsen recruited double bassist Sigurd Hole
to round out his new trio, still including Vespestad. A longtime member of Eple Trio
, featuring drummer Jonas Howden Sjøvaag and (ECM label mate with trumpeter Mathias Eick
) Andreas Ulvo
, Hole has released, so far, five albums with that trio, including the particularly special In the Clearing / In the Cavern
The double bassist launched his own Elvesang imprint in 2018, bravely making his first release for the label a solo bass recording, Elvesang
, released the same year. Recorded in a small wooden church, as the All About Jazz
review describes about an album that placed amongst the year's best recordings
: "A wooden church may, for some, be far from an ideal recording facility, but it was clearly the perfect place for Hole to shape Elvesang. The intrusion of outside sounds, ranging from thunder and bird sounds to gentle rain on the roof, only add to the album's overall nature-driven ambiance, made all the more so by the room's lovely natural reverb. It may be a bold move for Hole to make his first release under his own name a solo bass record, but even when it reaches beyond melody to more adventurous texture and color, Elvesang is an album of profound beauty and, more often than not, calming quietude. A recording that trades nuanced, delicate evocations for the merely obvious, Elvesang is all the more impressiveand captivatingfor it."
Unfortunately, Hole was unable to make this transatlantic tour for family reasons, and so Gustavsen has been forced to recruit more than one substitute. That the pianist's Montréal show would be the first and only appearance by Gjermund Silseth (Mari Boine
, Karl Seglem
, Hildegunn Oiseth
) made the performance all the more special. He may not share the intrinsic chemistry that has evolved between Gustavsen, Vespestad and Hole since the younger double bassist joined the trio, but he acquitted himself with confidence and creativity as a member of a trio where listening and engaging at a deep level with his trio mates is a necessity. Silseth also delivered a series of fine solos throughout the set, ranging from brief passages to his extended a cappella
feature near the main performance's conclusion.
During a first-time performance of the trio's imaginative interpretation of a rural Norwegian folk song, Silseth demonstrated tremendous facility con arco
, as he seamlessly moved between normal registers and delicately executed harmonics, with copious reverb causing many of his phrases to sustain through subsequent lines to create a more expansive melodic and harmonic tour de force. Cheers The only constant in all of Gustavsen's ECM recordings, Jarle Vespestad is a drummer who would surprise Gustavsen fans, were they to investigate his other work. Beyond being a charter member of the innovative noise improv group Supersilent
, alongside trumpeter Arve Henriksen, keyboard wizard Ståle Storløkken
and producer/engineer/guitarist/electronic manipulator Helge Sten
(AKA Deathprod), Vespestad left that group after 12 years and eight albums but remained a member of multi-instrumentalist Stian Carstensen
's completely unfettered, progressive/jazz-leaning band of effortless complexity and instrumental mastery, Farmers Market
, last heard on its particularly potent Slav to the Rhythm
(Division Records, 2012).