Tord Gustavsen Quartet - The Well
(ECM 278 5896. CD Review by Chris Parker)
Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen describes his compositions both as 'wordless hymns' ('I think that a kind of gravity from hymns and spirituals is fundamental in my musical orientation') and 'abstract lullabies' ('the tunes, even though they are different regarding their grooves, their textures or their level of energy, can all be hummed like a lullaby'), and a profoundly contemplative, hushed reverence does indeed characterise the music – the bulk of it the result of two commissions, from last year's Cheltenham Festival and from 2011's Oslo Church Festival – on this haunting album.
Given that the quartet's saxophonist, Tore Brunborg, and bassist Mats Eilertsen also specialise in lyrical, gently assertive, carefully sculpted playing, The Well might easily have veered uncomfortably close to a caricature ECM product, beautiful but somewhat bloodless, so the contribution of drummer Jarl Vespestad is crucial: instead of the insistent free-ish patter of, say, Jon Christensen or the whispering brushwork that might have been thought appropriate to such music, Vespedad draws on his experience with electro-improv band Supersilent and in rock groups such as Farmer's Market and Motorpsycho to bring a bristling precision and crackling energy to the band sound, occasionally even rapping out smart (but discreet) tattoos on his snare under his leader's pleasantly meandering solos.
There is, consequently, an affecting tension in the quartet's approach that results from the contrast between the almost luxurious delicacy of the melodic players and the controlled urgency of the drumming propelling them, and since this is a quality considerably enhanced in live performance, The Well promises much for the quartet's March 2012 UK tour.
UK Tour Dates:
Fri 16 Mar SOUTHAMPTON Turner Sims Concert Hall
Sat 17 Mar 17 MANCHESTER RNCM
Sun 18 Mar LONDON Queen Elizabeth Hall/Southbank Centre
Mon 19 Mar BURY ST EDMUNDS The Apex
Tue 20 Mar MUCH WENLOCK Edge Arts Centre
Wed 21 Mar LEEDS The Venue
Thu 22 Mar BRISTOL St. Georges
Fri 23 Mar BIRMINGHAM CBSO
Sat 24 Mar EDINBURGH Queen’s Hall
Sun 25 Mar GATESHEAD The Sage
Mon 4 June BATH Bath Festival
The UK tour by the Tord Gustavsen Quartet, produced by Serious, receives support from Music Export Norway and the Norwegian Embassy