Friday, February 3, 2012

Tord Gustavsen Quartet The Well ECM 2012

"It's the notes you don't play" is a popular jazz adage often attributed to Miles Davis despite little if any indication that he actually made this statement.

Tord Gustavsen's Quartet captures the essence of the popular adage with an expansive work emphasizing the vast spatial context in a  setting characterized with the subtle warmth of Gustavsen's methodical yet evocative lyrical work at the piano.

ECM fixture tenor saxophonist Tore Brunborg is given an enormous amount of lyrical freedom bordering close to instrumental "vocals" while settling into an expressive form and function between a more western blues approach and the more traditional Nordic sound. Double bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad give this release the organic pulse characterized by most ECM releases but with a finesse and understated elegance that plays well with Gustavsen's compositions.

"Playing" finds Gustavsen moving gently forward in a precise fashion while the piece seems to develop all most on its own. Shifting harmonics create a lyrical dynamic tension and a very zen like "less is more" begins to allow the listener to chart their own musical course. Nothing is hurried. Musical direction with subtly and an indefinable beauty of natural ebb and flow. "Communion" is beautiful piece carrying the double meaning of the liturgical sense of the sacrament of Communion and the intimate nature and closeness of creating within a band. Herein lies the success of The Well, a personal link to Gustavsen through his link to church music which is immediately transferred to Brunborg and the quartet. A slight intoxicating gospel infusion slowly creeps in and begins to permeate the tune with the honesty and simplicity of a beautiful melody.

"Circling" is another tune with a very minimalist yet emotional gospel energy that is a rare combination of solid musical roots with an earthy freedom of movement within the piece. Shifting harmonics highlight a dense yet bold sonic color palette from which Gustavsen plays. A noticeably darker sound but rich and vibrant that never allows Gustavsen to overplay the music. Compositional twists and turns, sonic side roads that while inventive never take one too far off the path and to the land of the musical self indulgent. Brunborg's performance on "On Every Corner" is gripping. A sharp melodic sense of direction allows Brunborg to play what is lyrical necessary as a vocalist would sing and in perfect harmonious union with Gustavsen.

Having experimented with different ensemble formats and the natural compositional challenges they create, Gustavsen has found a quartet that compliments each other. Perhaps the finest "east meets west" musical offering from ECM in over a decade.

A three dimensional lyrical depth of field highlighted with an emotional subtly that is intoxicating.

A 5 Star release as all the stars were in perfect alignment with the development of The Well.

Tracks: Prelude; Playing; Suite; Communion; Circling; Glasgow Intro; On Every Corner; The Well; Communion, Var.; Intuition; Inside.

Personnel: Tore Brunborg: tenor saxophone; Tord Gustavsen: piano; Mats Eilertsen: double-bass; Jarle Vespestad: drums.