After 2018's stellar The Other Side, Tord Gustavsen again graces listeners with a trio format. On this outing, ecologically-minded double bassist Sigurd Hole is replaced by ECM newcomer Steinar Raknes. A prolific recording artist with everything from dusky alt-country and americana to post-bop and free jazz to his name, Raknes introduces new flavors to the trio's palette. Gustavsen, along with stalwart percussionist Jarle Vespestad, proves to be an ideal collaborator with Raknes' diverse musical background.
Opening begins even less conspicuously than its frequently hushed predecessor. "The Circle" unravels almost like a shadow image of "The Tunnel," the opening track of The Other Side, its melodies and chord changes lightly echoing that song's ecclesial reverberation. Like many of the tunes here, it somehow feels familiar and new at the same time, a reminder of Gustavsen's unwavering creative vision. "Findings / Visa fran Rattvik" and "Opening" are sultry and dark as indigo ink, hovering around smoldering drones from synthesizer or bowed, gently distorted bass. Though these textures are perhaps the most palpable they have ever been in Gustavsen's music, their role continues to be to provide a subtle coloration and melancholy complexity.
Gustavsen's approach to sound has always been deployed with such poise that the introduction of a new timbre is immediately captivating. On "Ritual," "Helensburgh Tango," and "Re-Opening" one sees the trio working with novel sounds, as Raknes' double bass and electronics bring to mind the neon guitar streaks of Terje Rypdal or the indelible distorted melodies of Dan Berglund. However, these textures meld amicably with Gustavsen's modus operandi, enhancing the delicate interplay between stillness and intensity which permeates the album. While "The Longing" touches on emotions that may be the most delicate Gustavsen has ever explored, "Ritual" builds to a near cacophony uncommon in his oeuvre, courtesy of Raknes' bass squall. One imagines these combinations could prove divisive to longtime adherents of Gustavsen's work, but there is no question that he succeeds in finding new ways to augment and restlessly experiment while maintaining the appeal of his impeccable craft.
The album closes with an interpretation of "Vær sterk, min sjel" from the Norwegian hymnal; a final, unresolved chord hangs in the sacral air and is answered only by the whisper of a pedal movement. With Opening, Gustavsen continues to perfect the qualities that have always set his music apart, letting his phrases emerge like faintly luminous shapes in the darkness and coaxing listeners to chart their own paths between them.
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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