Sep 21, 2022
“Musically, I have the very clear feeling that my stretching
out and being creative has a much better chance of happening
organically, avoiding alienation and stiffness, when done in
energetic connection with my roots – with the sensuality and
groundedness of the hymns and the spirituals and
the lullabies.” – Tord Gustavsen
Piano players who record on ECM are in some heavy company. Many of the legends of the ivories – Jarrett, Corea, Bley, Iyer – have all had some of their finest work appear on the now legendary label. Tord Gustavsen seems to shrug off these rarified heights as he continues his recording career on ECM. And for good reason.
Changing Places, Gustavsen’s 2003 recording debut with his first trio, was ECM’s most successful debut in a decade. He followed with two more trio recordings, before launching a new, more flexible ensemble, which released the album Restored, Returned in 2009. The line-up included Tore Brunborg on saxophones and Kristin Asbjørnsen on vocals. This was followed in 2012 by an instrumental quartet album called The Well. He remains one of their most consistent sellers, and his releases are critically lauded.
The Tord Gustavsen Trio that recorded Opening, his latest release, has someone old and someone new in the band. Long-time drummer Jarle Vespestad is still here, but bassist Steinar Raknes is new to the fold. His playing is perfectly matched for this piano and drums, and he is not afraid to step out and take the lead on a few tunes as well. Steinar's use of elctronics, which Tord has touched on before, adds additional depth and texture to the recordings. As at least a few critics have pointed out, this music is the epitome of what ECM has stood for over the years, and one of the finest releases of 2022.
Tord was born in Oslo in 1970 and grew up in the Norwegian
countryside. He began playing the piano aged 4, and was composing
and improvising before he learned to read music and perform
classical pieces. His first stages were in churches, and he still
calls on hymns and folk melodies in his compositions today. At the
age of 19, he began his studies at the University of Oslo and his
interest in jazz started to flourish. He was accepted into the jazz
department at the Conservatory of Music in Trondheim in 1993, where
he formed several bands and toured all over Scandinavia.
I caught up with Tord via Zoom recently and we discussed his desire to move between piano trio and other ensemble sizes, why the addition of Raknes on bass was so important to the new album, and his plans for the rest of 2022. Musical selections from Opening include the ironically titled "Helensburgh Tango" and the melodic "The Circle."