'The Ground', the latest outing from pianist Tord Gustavsen is one of the true success stories on the Norwegian jazz circuit this year. With little hype and media exposure the quiet, melodic and lyrical piano led tunes have made their way to the top of the domestic sales charts and into the hearts of critics at home and abroad.
Hitting the charts
The Tord Gustavsen ECM release ‘The Ground’ has been a veritable success story since it’s domestic and international release in January. At home, the release made its way to the top of the national sales charts, the VG lista top 40, traditionally a popular music domain. With a minuscule promotion budget, the Norwegian distributor Musikkoperatørene has managed to outperform big-budgeted releases from the majors and brought Norwegian jazz out to the masses. Abroad, the release has also fared well, picking up a number of very strong reviews, particularly in the UK.
The Tord Gustavsen trio’s previous release, ‘Changing Places’, has to date sold more than 60 000 copies world-wide – not bad for a release that has hardly been promoted. Word of mouth, rave reviews and a string of applauded concerts have earned the trio a reputation as conveyors of the finest of what lyrical Scandinavian jazz has to offer.
The trio is made up of piano player Gustavsen, bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad. The same line-up can also be found supporting chart-topping jazz vocalist Silje Nergaard live on her domestic and international tours. All musicians share a background from the prestigious Jazz course at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.
Later this year, the trio will tour extensively abroad, gigging in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Japan, USA, Bulgaria, the UK and Ireland.
Says Gustavsen on the effects of the trio’s extensive touring: “In the course of touring we’ve come to a deeper understanding of our strengths. We’re both a very melodic trio and a very freedom-searching trio, and both those aspects may be clearer on the new record. The strong but somewhat abstract ‘gospel’ or ‘hymnal’ feel in much of our playing has also become more evident and central to our approach during the last couple of years. I think this relates to a constant urge to unite ‘openness’ with solid sensuous foundations.”
The trio is not afraid of slowing down the tempo and bring out the finer details of the tunes. "We are exploring slow tempos” says Gustavsen. “There is still so much expressive variety, rhythmic intensity, and creative interplay to be discovered within this framework. Lots of jazz bands believe they "have to" play fast songs, just to avoid boring their audience. We are more interested in the finer nuances than the large contrasts."
“’The Ground’ does not disappoint. The transparency that marked out Changing Places, has become more sharply defined, while the compositions are shaped with greater clarity of musical vision, allowing Gustavsen to weave his captivating, highly melodic improvisations to greater effect. Somehow this group draws you into its music, and each piece is a musical journey within the totality of the album itself. When the album is over you realize the extent to which this group has probed into the very heart of musical meaning. .. There really is not a piano trio in the whole of jazz that sounds like Gustavsen’s, which has continued to grow together into a remarkably integrated unit refining a vision of jazz that is very much its own." (Jazzwise – UK)
“Soulfully hip. Haunting, hook-based themes delivered as a close three-way embrace. .. Gustavsen may not play many notes, but he does make them all count, and Vespestad's patient, multi-textured drumming is hypnotic listening." (The Guardian - UK * * * *)
"The Ground takes up from where Changing Places left off and wallows in those feelings of faint melancholy you get when gazing out of the window on a wet Sunday afternoon. Gustavsen is a pianist of poetic cast, an exceptionally lucid player with a sure sense of melodic structure and an often astonishing lyrical imagination. Together with bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad - who follow the precise contours of his compositions with unflappable taste - he creates music rich with inner meaning and nuance... Spellbinding stuff." (The Observer * * * * *)
".. another collection of extremely carefully-judged illuminations. .. supremely calming." (BBC Jazz)
"Two years ago Tord Gustavsen became an unlikely success. His debut album, Changing Places, sold 60,000 copies which, for an unknown Norwegian playing low-key acoustic piano, was going some. No hype, no hip-hop beats, just music of spare beauty. The good news is that after two years of international touring, The Ground is better still — more focused, more melodically memorable, less abstract, and, in places, more funky. Gustavsen’s band does all the things you would expect an ECM label trio to do — pellucid, contemplative melodies ebb and flow over shimmering cymbals and brushed drums — but they do more besides. There are hints of gospel, the blues and those warm folksy melodies that Keith Jarrett wrote around the time of My Song. The trio also inject a subtle funk groove into Curtains Aside and Edges of Happiness. This year has already brought strong piano albums from EST and Lynne Arriale and the venerable Jarrett has a solo double ready; Gustavsen is up there with them." (Times Online * * * *)