I had the great pleasure of going to see Tord Gustavsen and his trio
(Harald Johnsen on Bass and Jarle Vespestad on Drums) last night at the
MAC in Birmingham. What a splendid evening's entertainment it was too.
This was the first time i'd heard their music - i was attracted by the
idea of them being in some way similar to the Esbjorn Svensson Trio who
I greatly admire.
The omens were good - the theatre was packed out and it was good to find
myself sitting in the second row with a clear view of all the
instruments on stage. I was a little concerned when the band came on -
Tord reminded me for a moment of Mr. 'Crimes against Jazz' Jamie Cullum
- but it was immediately obvious that I was in for a night of great
Ah yes, the music. They've been described as 'meditative', 'intense' and
'soulful'. Another word might be 'slow' - the tempo rarely increased
beyond mid-pace - but who cares about speed when a performance is as
intense as this one. Right from the start, it was clear that Tord was in
a different place to the rest of us. He spent much of the concert with
his head bent low, almost touching the keyboard, letting out moans of
delight during particularly emotional passages. Between pieces his voice
gave the impression of someone who had just woken up - or at least been
dragged back from the further regions of his consciousness. He was
clearly improvising - but yet his playing retained it's restrained
quality and was melodic and well-behaved harmonically throughout. So
much so that you could imagine the whole thing being transcribed and
played back by a classical pianist. That's not a criticism - in fact,
the ability to keep such restraint while clearly being consumed by the
intensity of the music is a mark of a great talent.
I've said a lot about Tord but not much about the others yet. The sad
thing for them is that this is definitely the Tord Gustavsen Trio. They
didn't get much solo space at all, which is a shame as when they did
they showed themselves to be excellent musicians. Jarle, the drummer, in
particular, showed enormous skill in setting the dynamic of most pieces.
He could go from hushed to waking the dead over an extended period
without ever making you think he was doing anything different - in fact
on several occasions, after a hushed section I would suddenly think,
"when did this get loud?", so gradual was the increase in volume. He
also played a cymbal solo with brushes that was so delicate, he was
hardly even touching his kit. At other times he put his sticks away
completely and played with his hands, to reach the level of tranquility
that the music at times required. Harald on the bass also showed himself
to be a skilled, if somewhat conventional bassist with a decent solo
later in the set.
Now, you might get the impression that all was quiet and peaceful in the
MAC last night - far from it. At times the music welled up to epic
sounding crescendos, with Tord playing like a man possessed - on his
feet (face still millimeters from the keys), pounding away at the
keyboard like he wanted to take it outside and give it a good seeing to.
Even though the playing got fast and loud, his technical skill kept it
all together. Sitting where I was, i could see every movement his hands
made and was constantly amazed that the blur of fingers I could see was
producing the same music I was hearing.
A great night's music, certainly. The audience certainly thought so -
there was little room for head nodding or foot tapping throughout the
more cerebral sections, but the applause at the close of the concert
almost took the roof off the small venue. When the band came back out
for their encore, they showed themselves not to be frightened of sonic
adventures, with Tord damping his piano strings with his hands to create
all manner of weird and wonderful sounds from his bosendorfer grand.
All that remains to be said is this - there was a man outside afterwards
selling the band's new CD. Did I buy one? Silly question. Should you? On last
night's performance - absolutely. Watch this space, there's a review of
the album to come...