Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen continues to evolve the amalgamation of classical, pop and jazz languages into a cohesive modern jazz sound. Gustavsen has released six albums on ECM Records with his ensemble and trio; Changing Places (2003), The Ground (2005), Being There (2007), Restored, Returned (2009), The Well (2012) and Extended Circle (2014). Gustavsen has won the Norwegian Grammy Awards (Spellemannsprisen) and numerous other awards and prizes. Gustavsen spent many years focusing on the piano trio format, but since 2011, the quartet has been Gustavsen's major touring ensemble of choice.
Gustavsen has become known for his ability to relate the sounds and shapes of Scandinavian folk music, gospel, Caribbean music and cool jazz. This unique approach brings a new angle of beauty to the jazz community that focuses on merging the jazz history with Nordic contemplative moods and open lyrical melodies. Extended Circle continues this evolution and features saxophonist Tore Brunborg, bassist Mats Eilertsen, as well as longstanding drummer Jarle Vespestad.
The quartet has been solidifying its group sound through recording and regular touring, specializing in music that is unhurried, subtle and developed in a meditative manner. The music on this offering unfolds as developments of melodic fragments that are manipulated and developed by the quartet into cohesive and flowing arches of musical statements. "Eg Veit I Himmerik El Borg" (Castle in the Sky), a traditional Norwegian hymn, begins with Gustavsen lightly stating a melody that establishes a minor mode over Eilertsen's pedal tone and Vespestad's drum commentary. As Gustavsen switches to chords for the B section, Eilertsen and Vespestad continue to develop the straight-eighth feel. Gustavsen continues to develop the melody with ornaments as the groove underneath him evolves in intensity and activity. Brunborg quietly enters just before the midway point to elevate the sound further. Brunborg and Gustavsen begin a series of beautiful call and response phrases that build the music to the songs climax, Brunborg's playing eventually states the melody in the upper register of his saxophone with just the right amount of intensity and grit to yield an emotional response as Gustavsen's rumbling chords follow the phrases, building to the release and a logical cadence, closing the musical arch.
Two versions of "Entrance" appear on the CD and are collective spontaneous compositions that reveal the quartet's intense listening skills and ability to give shape to free improvisation; even if there is no defined form, the quartet creates a mood and structural unit that develops and forms a quality musical statement. Gustavsen's compositions are sparse melodic statements that are revealed in their subtleties. "The Gift" is a slow tempo melody that finds its way through a series of beautiful chordal changes and tonalities. Eilertsen's counterpoint to Gustavsen's playing is excellent, supporting the harmony when needed and giving motion to the melodic flow at just the right moments.
Extended Circle has a suite-like program that is very musically fulfilling; Gustavsen's concept of gradually expanding musical statements that stay true to a primary theme of contemplative moods and open lyrical melodies is the success of the project and well worth the listen.
Track Listing: Right There; Eg Veit I Himmerik El Borg; Entrance; The Gift; Staying
There; Silent Spaces; Entrance, var.; Devotion; The Embrace; Bass
Transition; Glow; The Prodigal Song.
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