On the surface, pianist Tord Gustav-sen's music might fit your average description of the Nordic sound-all dreamy fjords, windswept snowdrifts and winters that last for years. But if you listen close to the Tord Gustavsen Trio's gorgeous album The Ground (ECM) you'll hear tango influences. No, seriously. And live, when the trio backed vocalist Silje Nergaard, I heard Caribbean influences in Gustavsen's playing, too. (His inner Monty Alexander was showing.)
On The Ground, listen to the near-waltz rhythm and the breaks on "Being There," and the band's switch to the minor on "Colours of Mercy" for examples of the Latin tinge. Hell, there's even a song called "Token of Tango." But because Gustavsen, bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad play so quiet and slow-the opposite of what we think of with tango or Latin or Caribbean music-it seems odd to bring up these references. Of course, you can hear bits of Bill Evans, Lennie Tristano and fellow Norwegian Jon Balke in Gustavsen's expertly chosen harmonies and well-defined solos, in addition to the hymnal qualities of church music. But it's these other, less obvious influences that that makes Gustavsen's playing so unique.
Like Changing Places, one of my favorite CDs of 2003, The Ground is uniformly beautiful, and the trio's rigorously restrained playing is a complete marvel. I've already saved space at the top of my 2005 list for The Ground.