Sunday, May 4, 2008

Tord Gustavsen Trio: Powerful Elegance


Tord Gustavsen Trio: Master Class @ BMW Edge

2.30pm Fri 2 May

Tord Gustavsen – piano
Harald Johnsen – double bass
Jarle Vespestad – drums


Tord Gustavsen Trio: Powerful Elegance


Click here to listen to some of this trio’s music.


TGIII began by playing three inter-segued pieces. Each was pensive and delicate, characterised by rich harmonies faithful to romantic melodies. Rhythmically the music was subtle and spare, silence transformed into stillness, the time expressed through spaciousness.

Tord then answered questions and spoke about what is at the core of the trio’s approach. The distillation of the group’s concept is to hold one thing most sacred – ‘being here’. The act of playing the music is about cherishing presence and awareness. The music speaks clearly of this and, in effect, the process becomes the same for the listener.

To listen to this music and lie in wait for an outburst of excited expression will probably lead to disappointment. It is music which, as Tord pointed out in response to a compliment from an audience member, can be listened to intently or can be appreciated as atmospheric mood music. There is a direct connection between the music’s ability to function in both these ways and the reverent approach to intention adopted by these three.

Tord described the ‘force-field’ within which they are constantly working, balancing between the desire for expressivity and the desire to be concise. He wants the emotional essence of the music to come from some place raw and immediate, while at the same time wishing to express that emotion in the clearest, most elegant way.

This often means a minimalist approach, playing only the bare bones of what is necessary to outline the song at each moment. The drummer Jarle Vespestad may imply a slow, rock-ish 4/4 beat that is clearly felt, but only touch the drums five or six times in four bars. His control and poise, his unwavering connection to the sonic expressive potential of each of his drums and cymbals, is mesmerising.

The improvisations which follow the statements of the melody, including the drum and bass solos, are exercises in meditation. Tord’s piano style is exploratory, not experimental. He communicates with the core of each moment, as if asking the song what should come next. His craft lies in his ability to receive this guidance and transmit it directly through his fingers. He is joined with the piano as one; they share the same goal.

For all the delicacy of the playing, there is somehow no lack of power or sincerity in the music. The statements of each player individually and their fluid collective motion have a kind of space-dust quality to them – within each tiny particle of music there is an immense, universal density. This comes from their commitment to being here.

The bass drum booms softly, like a distant cannon or a near heartbeat. The double bass notes swell like whale language or a monk’s chant. The piano drifts and dreams like a mind or simply is, like nature.

The invitation, then, is extended to the listener to share in this experience. The choice is there to focus on the detail of the music and the prowess of the players, or to let the music be the soundtrack to your own inner journey of awareness.

The trio played a final piece, entitled Where Breathing Begins.

In the space that immediately followed, my friend Melissa and I both had a similar experience of coming into awareness of a deep bodily relaxation. I said I felt like I’d just had a massage and she said it was also like receiving counselling. To a listener who accepts the invitation, this trio’s music is among the most powerfully transformative I have ever encountered.