Tord Gustavsen: What Was Said

What Was Said is imbued with the pristine austerity and profound contemplation of a vintage ECM record. While the iconic German label has broadened its stylistic offerings considerably over the years, it has consistently opted for artists like the Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen, whose aesthetic aural tableaus can’t quite camouflage the secret ingredient of his enterprise: passion.

For his seventh ECM outing, Gustavsen, the son of a Lutheran minister, has incorporated some Norwegian hymns that he refers to as “my standards.” Four of them are translated and sung in the Pashto language by the German-Afghan female vocalist Simin Tander, accompanied only by the pianist and his perennial cohort Jarle Vespestad on drums. Four other songs are poems-three by Rumi, the 13th-century Persian and Sufi mystic, and one by Beat-generation wordsmith Kenneth Rexroth-set to music by Gustavsen and sung in English by Tander. The remaining two tracks are instrumental duets for Gustavsen and Vespestad.

The tenacity of Gustavsen’s idiosyncratic vision binds the project together remarkably well. Longtime fans may initially chafe at the primacy of Tander, but her expressive restraint marries the plaintive with the ethereal, the sensuous with the spiritual, in a manner that coaxes forth and complements the strong but spare cohesion Gustavsen and Vespestad know how to perform by heart. Within the fabric are shades of blues and gospel as much as jazz, abetted by an occasional bass synthesizer and other understated electronic effects that Gustavsen views as a “euphonic halo” around the music. Most of all, What Was Said is grounded in a fundamental faith and devotion to God that Gustavsen, by blatantly mixing Muslim and Christian languages, wants us to realize is beyond a specific religious belief. He comes in reverent peace, with music gentle and powerful enough to convey the message.

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