Tord Gustavsen's first three piano trio albums sold in unimaginable quantities, made him an unlikely star in his native Norway, and established him internationally. He became the living embodiment of the ECM soundquiet, contemplative, solemn, spacious. In fact, so spacious, that at gigs one would sometimes wait a seeming eternity for the arrival of the next tinkling arpeggio, the next scrape of a fingernail across the snare drum, or growling bass slide. Minimalist it most certainly is, but putting this album on in the background would be an abuse of the music: Opening casts a spell which only works when one sits quietly and really listens.
After 2007, Gustavsen worked on non-trio projects for more than a decade, several of them involving vocalists, only returning to the trio format with 2018's The Other Side. This new album sees him back on the territory he first made his own with his debut release Changing Places, and its follow-up The Ground. Drummer Jarle Vespestad has been with Gustavsen from the start, but the bass chair has had several occupants; on Opening, it's taken by Steinar Raknes (who has previously worked with the likes of Chick Corea and Michael Brecker). Raknes takes the melody on "Helensburgh Tango," his arco work benefitting from some electronic enhancement, heavy on the reverb. On "Re-opening," he makes the bass howl mournfully like some lonely wolf on the Norwegian tundra, and on "Ritual" he somehow makes it squeal like an electric guitar in the style of Terje Rypdal, or perhaps Arve Henriksen's trumpet.
Despite Gustavsen's reputation as an exponent of Nordic gloom, this is not sad music; some of the tunes, for example "Stream," are even in a major key. His signature piano style puts one in mind of J.S. Bach playing an incredibly slow tango. It is uplifting, in its slow and stately manner, the rhythmic pulse often slipping away as the trio takes its unhurried time to explore some evolving idea.
The Circle; Findings/Visa Fran Rattvik; Opening; The Longing; Shepherd Song; Helensburgh Tango;
Re-Opening; Findings II; Stream; Ritual; Floytelat/The Flute; Vaer sterk, min sjel.
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