Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen can often be found wandering at the most esoteric fringes of jazz, perhaps less as a restless seeker than a keen observer. His music often seems to be composed as if it’s been revealed to him in a dream rather than consciously sought out. Certainly, he is one of the most interesting musicians working in Europe today.
His last album Extended Circle was an elliptical delight and it strongly informed 1320Radio thinking on what contemporary jazz programming could be. It was a typically thoughtful album, made with a quartet, and the music suggested hidden depths beneath its reflective surface.
On What Was Said, it’s clear that Tord Gustavsen has moved into unoccupied spaces where the revelatory experience lies buried deeper still, residing in places where it is so much harder to extract. It’s a riveting album that contains many complex propositions based on careful thought, patient pondering and considered conversations, and it deserves to be rewarded with patient listening.
He’s joined by vocalist Simin Tander and drummer Jarle Vespestad on a recording that stretches lyric, melody, vocal and piano across a opaque matrix of organic electronics, synthesized bass and percussive subtlety. The overall effect is absorbing and ultimately spiritual, but descend further and you will find even more than that.
It may be a terrible cliché to say that still waters run deep, but it’s a justified appraisal of a trio album that uses such sparse instrumentation. The results are astonishingly dense, deeply layered and satisfyingly complex.
The songs are sung in Pashto and English by the ascendant Tander with lyrics sourced from Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207 – 1273) and American writer Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982), while much of the music is drawn heavily from the traditional Norwegian hymnal. There are nevertheless six original compositions by Gustavsen and they further reinforce his status as a singular voice on piano, particularly on The Way You Play My Heart, which intriguingly combines Nordic intellect with gospel intonation.
In many ways that tune is atypical of the core discussion taking place on What Was Said. Most of the pieces, such as Longing To Praise Thee and Journey of Life dwell in the lower reaches of sweet melancholy where poets think for endless hours on themes of life, mortality, love, existence and release from suffering.
Gustavsen has found in Simin Tander the perfect international jazz singer to articulate all of this, and her personal origins are less significant perhaps than her emergence here as a truly pan-global voice. The world may be intent on ripping itself apart, but love and music are about mutual attraction and What Was Said is the result of strong partnerships, common goals and shared vision.
It is perhaps not so surprising then to hear Gustavsen say, “We have gone quite far in interpreting the lyrics in a more integral manner, reaching into a space where I feel that Sufism and Christianity actually meet, along with other contemplative traditions.”
What Was Said is also a deeply personal project for Gustavsen who has also said that, “The Norwegian hymns are my ‘standards’ – they reach deeper down in my being than the typical jazz canon.”
He could surely have wished for no better travelling companions on his journey than Tander and Vespestadt whose respective contributions are as expert and assured as they are intuitive and sympathetic.
What Was Said is out now on ECM