REVIEW: Tord Gustavsen Trio and Joe Webb Trio at the Ronnie Scott's Int Piano Trio Festival

Tord Gustavsen in 2007
Photo credit: Sheldon (Shelly) Levy / Creative Commons

Tord Gustavsen Trio and Joe Webb Trio
(Ronnie Scott's. 25 August. Late sets. Part of the 2017 Int Piano Trio Festival. Review by Gail Tasker)

Tord Gustavsen’s precise, intricate piano-playing was the crucial ingredient in the musical recipe his trio served up at Ronnie’s International Piano Trio Festival. His band, made up of Jarle Vespestad on drums and Sigurd Hole on bass, were his fellow chefs, concocting this infinitely subtle musical feast. The overall feel was quiet and reflective, but with plenty of dynamic variation as Gustavsen’s melodies morphed into percussive Monk-like improvisations. Slow chordal figures would loop and increase in intensity, until, with a nod to his band, Gustavsen would suddenly revert back to pianissimo. In tunes like The Other Plan, Gustavsen got to his feet as the groove grabbed him.

The sound engineer (David Solheim) was almost like a fourth musician. No wonder he was credited when Gustavsen introduced the band. Vespestad’s kit was decorated with countless microphones, which brought out every tonal nuance of the instrument. As soon as Vespestad started the set with a loose rhythmic pattern, the crowd fell silent as his highly amplified snare drum echoed around the room. This set-up was not abused, but fitted in naturally as Gustavsen weighed in with chordal patterns and Hole contributed bowed pedal notes on bass.

Gustavsen not only played the grand piano, but also had a collection of soft synths, pedals, and even a Roli Seaboard. This electronic combination added low, organ-like undertones in certain pieces, barely discernable unless you listened carefully. It was interesting to discover afterwards that these synths were controlled by optic sensors attached to the piano. Vespestad also used extended techniques, such as hitting his ride cymbal with his fist, creating a resonant, booming sound, as well as striking wooden beads against the cymbals and snare. Sigurd Hole was creative in using his instrument as tool of sound as opposed to just a conventional harmonic reference point. The band’s musical soundscape was compelling and surprisingly emotional, given the introspective Nordic vibe.

Taking the Late Late Show was the Joe Webb Trio, with Ed Richardson on drums and Tim Thornton on double bass. They had just come from the Royal Albert Hall and were set to return again after the gig. This busy schedule appeared to pose no problem to their music-making, which featured standards such as I’m Old-Fashioned and Night and Day performed with impressive precision and total togetherness. Clean and crisp yet nicely laid back, the trio kept kept the crowd happy well into the early hours.

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