Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen has built a huge and enthusiastic worldwide following through his ECM discs and touring, and 'Restored, Returned' will broaden that popularity still further.
After a trilogy of trio recordings - 'Changing Places', 'The Ground', and 'Being There' - which explored a clearly-demarcated melodic terrain, here is a strikingly different album from Tord Gustavsen at the head of a reconfigured band.
Into the group come two Norwegian improvisers familiar to ECM listeners, bassist Mats Eilertsen and saxophonist Tore Brunborg. Inside the ensemble new aspects of interactive possibility open up as duo, trio and quartet instrumental combinations explore the space inside Tord's compositions - his gospel-inflected hymns and lullabies and ballads and his pulsing, almost minimalistic grooves.
Six tracks include also the voice of Kristin Asbjørnsen. She wraps her bluesy phrasing huskily around the poetry of WH Auden on "Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love", "Restored, Returned", "Wrapped in a Yielding Air" and "O Stand, Stand At The Window", and vocalizes wordlessly on three takes of Gustavsen's "Left Over Lullaby", threaded through the album as a structural element.
Tord's 2004 'The Ground' reached No 1 in the Norwegian pop charts, an unprecedented achievement for an instrumental album ("This album will make your life better", promised The Independent on Sunday). Being There was Album of the Year in Jazz Review - indeed each of his previous recordings has topped jazz charts around the world.
Tord Gustavsen (piano), Kristin Asbjørnsen (vocals), Tore Brunborg (tenor and soprano saxophones), Mats Eilertsen (double-bass), Jarle Vespestad (drums)
Tord Gustavsen's meditative but subtly gospel-tinged music has brought him a big following outside the jazz loop: his 2003 album, Changing Places, was the biggest ECM debut in a decade. The Norwegian pianist tours the UK for nine days from today, and returns in November for the London jazz festival. Gustavsen's earlier albums have been for a low-lights piano trio, but this is a quartet set featuring the excellent Jan Garbarek-inspired saxophonist Tore Brunborg, plus guest appearances from singer Kristin Asbjørnsen. Brunborg, though wistfully Garbarek-like on soprano at the opening, is rougher and less ethereal than his model - closer even to Wayne Shorter's enigmatic jazziness on The Gaze. His powerful role makes Gustavsen's piano mainly supportive until halfway through, when the leader blossoms out on Left Over Lullaby No 1. Kristin Asbjørnsen's voice - banshee-like on high notes, but as raspingly bluesy as Carol Grimes on occasion - is always arresting, whether on free improv, floating lullabies or incantations of WH Auden poems. For those who felt Gustavsen's work was a bit pallid, here's the remedy.
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