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Tord Gustavsen Trio: The Ground

What we said: On the surface, pianist Tord Gustavsen’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 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.

(Christopher Porter, May 2005)

What we say: Tord Gustavsen has a degree in musicology from the University of Oslo, and his thesis is titled “The Dialectical Eroticism of Improvisation.” Which may seem odd considering Gustavsen’s music is more spiritual than sexy. But in his dissertation Gustavsen writes about forgoing instant gratification “in order to achieve a satisfaction on the basis of the unfolding over time…so that you can enjoy the releases, culminations and joys that are actually realized without too much sorrow over the possibilities for gratification that are not.” That sounds like a lot of religious doctrine to us, which normally makes us suspicious. But if Gustavsen is the preacher, and his deeply moving music the choir, consider us wholly converted.

Originally Published