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Tord Gustavsen with Simin Tander & Jarle Vespestad: What was said

Mark Sullivan By

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What was said introduces a new trio from Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen, featuring German-Afghan vocalist Simin Tander, with the support of longtime collaborator drummer Jarle Vespestad (who has played on all of Gustavsen's previous ECM recordings). The inspiration for the program was the tradition of Norwegian church music, but it is explored in a most untraditional way. The most obvious difference is the polyglot approach to the sung languages. Gustavson's interest in Sufi poetry and enjoyment of the sound of the Pashto language led to the decision to translate Norwegian hymns into Pashto. Lyrics adapted from the great Persian poet Rumi get the reverse treatment, and are sung in English. One song sets a poem by U.S. poet Kenneth Rexroth (who counted Rumi among his influences), which stays in the original language (English). Gustavsen saw this as a way to make connections between these poets, establishing a dialog across centuries.

However unorthodox all this cross-translation seems, Tander makes it sound completely natural. Her intimate, lyrical voice is equally at home in both languages, as well as singing wordless vocalise and improvising. Gustavson still plays the piano as his main instrument, but has augmented it with discreet electronics and occasional synthesizer bass, while Vespestad provides percussive textures or timekeeping as required. So the group is a true trio, not just a vocalist with accompanists.

They take these roles in different ways throughout the program. The opener "Your Grief" (an English Rumi translation) sounds like a voice/piano duet at first, but ends with a gentle percussion solo. "Imagine The Fog Disappearing" is the first track to use a full band sound, with drums, prominent electronics, and bass synthesizer. "Journey Of Life" (a Norwegian traditional sung in Pashto) uses toms and vocalese, and one section has a lovely sustained synthesizer pad with melodic piano on top.

There is a brief instrumental interlude just past the halfway mark, two lyrical Gustavson originals played without vocals, sounding more like his previous ECM releases. "The Way You Play My Heart" has a Gospel feel, while "Rull" shows an almost martial side to Vespestad's drumming. "Longing To Praise Thee" is another Norwegian traditional tune, but this time Tander sings it without words. Closing "Sweet Melting Afterglow" begins with a collective improvisation, then fittingly ends the album with a Norwegian tune sung in Pashto. What was said presents a quietly surprising vision of a new kind of musical fusion. It's subtle, and may take a couple of listens before the beauty takes hold.

Track Listing: Your Grief; I See You; Imagine the Fog Disappearing; A Castle in Heaven; Journey of Life; I Refuse; What Was Said to the Rose / O Sacred Head; The Way You Play My Heart; Rull; The Source of Now; Sweet Melting; Longing to Praise Thee; Sweet Melting Afterglow.

Personnel: Tord Gustavsen: piano, electronics, synth bass; Simin Tander: voice; Jarle Vespestad: drums.

Title: What was said | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: ECM Records

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