Critics - English translations and originals

Live reviews:

  • "masterpiece of the understated" (John Fordham, The Guardian - read the entire review)

  • "The melodies ... were rich and their slow-motion groove was deep. It was as if the band had stumbled upon some very strong and mildly intoxicating tranquillisers. If so, I wish they’d tell us where." (Jack Massarik, London Evening Standard)

  • "Everything felt right about the concert: the wonderful acoustics of the QEH, the hushed reverence of the audience, the sense of spiritual connection between the performers and their material. In short, the ideal Sunday service." (John Adcock, Jazz Journal -- reviewing the concert in Queen Elizabeth Hall March 2012 - read the entire review)

  • "He might keep the volume down but in his desire to wring every last meaning and emotional nuance from an improvisational phrase he will push back the piano stool, or crouch briefly, twisting his forearms in line with the keyboard, and bowing down to get his ear to the ivory. His solos were heartfelt, hugely intelligent and a masterclass in 'being there'." (The Jazz Breakfast reviewing a concert in Birmingham March 2012 - read the entire review)

  • "Gustavsen’s rolling, slow-moving melodies lay meaningful stress on every note, and tiny nuances of timbre and articulation are thrown into high relief, down to the almost subliminal swish of Vespestad’s wire brushes through the air in front of the microphone. .. The compositions .. built and developed with an almost cinematic quality. Gustavsen’s elegant, measured lines spun out in beautifully constructed fashion, while Brunborg’s tenor saxophone sang over the tight knit interplay of the trio in lyrical fashion." (Kenny Mathieson, The Scotsman -- reviewing a concert in Edinburgh March 2012 - read the entire review)

  • "Tord Gustavsen has refined his zen-like art to near perfection. ... A set comprising old material as well as pieces from new album The Well (ECM) underlined how saxophonist Tore Brunborg is increasingly stepping out of Garbarek's long shadow and playing with great authority. Every note from bassist Mats Eilersen, and every gesture from drummer Jarle Vespestad, rang with bell-like clarity, hanging frozen in mid air before decaying into silence. Gustavsen, frequently hunched in deep concentration over his keyboard, was locked in deep communion with his music. Every bit as intense as anything heard all weekend, this set marked a brilliant end to the festival." (Fred Grand - Jazz Journal, reviewing the concert at Gateshead International Jazz Festival March 2012 - read the entire review)

  • "Spellbinding." (Financial Times, UK -- reviewing a 'solos in dialogue' concert with Tord Gustavsen and organmaster Kåre Nordståga in Oslo March 2011 - read the entire review)

  • "Gustavsen's discreet gospel roots and his musical meticulousness bring audiences to awed silence" (John Fordham, The Guardian, UK -- reviewing a concert at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2011 - read the entire review)

  • "graceful but insistent vigour -- wonderfully full-bodied throughout" (characterizing Jarle Vespestad and Mats Eilertsen in Londonjazz blog review of a concert at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival 2011 - read the entire review)

  • "[P]eace and spirit are not the only elements that make this music wonderful. There is a conscious sense of thought in the phrasing that goes off the beat and path of melody without being on the edge. .. Tord along with Mats Eilertsen on bass and Jarle Vespestad on drums play with this translucent touch and each tone seems to rise with clarity into the stratosphere. The forth member of the ensemble is silence. The space is used to surround the sound and protect the note as the amplitude rises to normal and a few clicks below. Yes, the audience is listening, and the music encapsulates the room with the slow, fulfilling warmth. .. Each piece is a story that takes its time to be told. We sit here as eager children on the lap of our elders while being soothed and consciously comforted by the whispers of sounds that are not boisterous, but caressing, interesting and captivating." (LeRoy Downs, reviewing a performance in Los Angeles March 2011 - read the entire review)

  • ".. probably the finest performance of the festival .. Solo seems the wrong word for these meditations that peppered the performance. .. you realised how special this group is: every note is given breathing space; nothing is forced. And yet, reading that description it's easy to imagine the most austere free jazz - but the Gustavsen ensemble never sacrifices melody. It's always there, even when whispered. You hear it breathing down Tore Brunborg's gentle sax, in Mats Eilrtsen's often eerie bass sounds, or in the flirtation with silence that is JArle Vespestad's drumming. In a set full of lullabies from the latest album, the audience experienced no lulls in quality, and was lulled not so much to sleep, but into a delicate sound-world of spare beauty and depth." (Alan O'Riordan, Irish Times, reviewing a concert at the Cork Jazz Festival October 2010 - read the entire review)

  • "Het beste concert komt van het vernieuwde ensemble van Tord Gustavsen. .. Gustavsen speelt modern, maar melodisch. De ritmiek staat strak van ingehouden spanning. De bescheiden zangeres Kristin Asbjornsen brengt samen met dit ensemble indringende versies van gedichten van Auden uit de bunder Another Time. Het publiek in de bomvolle Madeira luistert vijf kwartier in opperste concentratie en vraagt en krijgt daarna nog een toegift." //
      "The best concert comes from the new ensemble of Tord Gustavsen. Gustavsen plays modern, but melodic. The rhythms are tihght because of the restrained tension. The modest singer Kristin Asbjornsen brings together with this ensemble penetrating versions of poems of Auden from Another Time. The audience in the overfilled madeira listens for 5 quarters of an hour in the uttmost concentration and asks and also gets an encore." Johan, Bakker, Nederlands Dagblad - reviewing a concert at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam July 2010

  • "Gustaven's music was all about careful attention to the spaces between the notes, and the subtlest gradation of tempo and dynamic. Despite exploring very specific musical terrain, Gustavsen's performance was the definition of variation—rich in emotion, texture, melody...and spontaneity." (John Kelman, All About Jazz, reviewing a concert at the Ottawa Jazz Festival 2010 - read the entire review)

  • "A piano style that is unique its in combination of Nordic-cool and Mediterranean flavours that manages to be meditative yet seductive, sombre yet full of beautiful optimism, Tord Gustavsen has managed to create a sound that somehow marries these disparate elements and makes them extremely accessible. The genuine emotion felt is audibly and visibly clear. ... But what made this such an amazing show was the breathtaking synergy of the quartet and the strength of emotions shown by each member, their inventiveness in expressing them. That, and the sheer beauty of Tord Gustavsen's songs." (David McLean, All About Jazz, reveiwing a concert in Manchester October 2009 - read the entire review)

  • "...I doubt that I could ever tire of Gustavsen's luminously beautiful music, which - thanks to the extraordinary sensitivity of his trio - manages to bridge earthly and spiritual concerns with effortless grace." (The Age, Australia, reviewing a concert at the Melbourne Jazz Festival May 2008)

  • "Gustavsen works by building a piece as if laying blocks on top of each other. It is the efforts he and his bandmates go to in order to fill out this framework that draw in the listener. At the Barbican, this worked to great effect. The group is more dynamic in concert than on record, with drummer Jarle Vespestad and bass player Harald Johnsen contributing well-judged and precise solos. Before a hushed audience, this group produced jazz of the highest order." (Independent, UK, reviewing a concert at the Barbican / London Jazz Festival November 2007 - read the entire review)

  • "Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen sometimes appeared ecstatically wired to the keyboard as he picked out his sublimely spare yet lyrical melodies, eased along by drummer Jarle Vespestad's flickering brushwork and Harald Johnsen's rich-toned and ruminative double bass .. a deeply satisfying, almost meditative, musical experience. .. entranced listeners were hanging on every unhurried note" (The Scotsman, UK, reviewing a concert in Edinburgh October 2007)

  • "The trio languished in subverting our expectations at every turn. Vespestad has a unique sense of expressive minimalism, his drumming sometimes little more than the faint sound of a heartbeat.  .. Each tune - and composition is one of Gustavsen's strengths, whether hymnal, tango or neo-classical - had an unmistakable sensuality coursing through it. This was lyrical and emotionally uplifting music." (The Herald, UK, reviewing a concert at the Glasgow International Jazz Festival June 2007)

  • "[T]he band’s set moved between this unique brand of melodic sparseness and a kind of controlled swing that drives straight into the listener’s psyche. The resulting mood was one that effectively drew the audience into a place of great fragility and depth, where the eyes and ears are no less than completely transfixed" (Riel Lazarus, All About Jazz, reviewing a concert at the Montreal Jazz Festival July 2007 - read the entire review)

  • "Theirs is some of the most persuasive music of the past 10 years." (Eastern Daily Press, UK, reviewing a concert at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival May 2006)

  • ".. every note and phrase carrying enhanced weight and significance, every delicate nuance making a quietly emphatic point. Vespestad's remarkable drumming commanded attention with the lightest of touches of brush on cymbal, while Gustavsen's flowing piano lines were bursting with creative ideas and intent." (The Scotsman, UK, reviewing a concert at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival July 2006)

  • "... a fascinating study in understatement .. an infinite variety of small movements .. as irresistible as it is subtle." (The Herald, UK, reviewing a concert at the Edinburgh Jazz Festival July 2006)

  • ".. a dream of a performance by a dream of a group. .. If there is another jazz group playing this well at the moment, I'd be very surprised. .. what strikes you perhaps most of all is firstly how tastefully they have chosen their influences (Gustavsen's piano playing has a very strong gospel-jazz lilt) and, secondly, how they have now truly outgrown them. The Tord Gustavsen Trio sounds like no one but itself." (The Indenpendant, UK, reviewing a concert at the Lichfield Festival July 16 2005 - read the entire review)

  • "As evenings of quiet intensity go, they don’t come much more quiet or intense than a set by the Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen .. he placed beautifully crafted, delicate melodies over the subtle drum rhythms of Jarle Vespesad and the bass of Harald Johnsen .. At the end, one feels cleansed, refreshed and renewed.." (The Times, UK, reviewing a concert in Birmingham October 2005  - read the entire review)

  • "In a .. complete and glorious concert, he mainly played original pieces from his two recent sublime discs, Changing Places and The Ground. He stroked and caressed the keyboard, a slight, hunched figure immersed in the rolling chords and notes he coaxed from themiddle register of the piano, rarely moving to the flashy end of the keyboard. Sometimes his melodies seem to indicate other songs and glimpses from the past, haunting with nostalgia and knowing but always reassuring and infused with tenderness and ecstasy. .. in the centre of the stage sat one of the most extraordinary drummers ever to visit these shores. Vespestad slid over his small kit, using silence as if it were notes and sound. A few beats of mallets across his skins was a simple entry to the majestic Where Breathing Starts and his Zen-like smile and brush swipe across a cymbal was the perfect end to a unique concert." (Michael Rofe / The Australian, reviewing a concert at Sydney Festival January 15th, 2006)

  • "One could .. describe the way Gustavsen's jewel-like melodies seem to dance across a shimmering surface while tapping into a deep well of emotion. Or the way he compels you to listen more and more closely by retreating further and further towards silence.
      One could point to the unerring lyricism with which Harald Johnsen's bass anchors the rich harmonies, or wraps around Gustavsen's piano lines to create parallel, contrapuntal conversations.
      And one could marvel at the miraculously understated approach of Jarle Vespestad, who is not so much a drummer as a close-up conjurer, able to build and maintain an irresistible, groove-laden momentum with almost imperceptible rhythmic gestures.
      In the end, though, the profound emotional impact of this music has very little to do with technique. And, ravishingly beautiful as Gustavsen's tunes are, one gets the impression that he and his colleagues could play a TV jingle and cast the same sensory spell. This is the point where words start to seem inadequate, and feelings and responses come into play. In fact, perhaps the most meaningful way to describe this trio's music is in terms of its effect on the listener.
      Tuesday night's concert at Melba Hall was an intensely moving experience. Gustavsen, in particular, radiates such a palpable sense of openness and trust - in his colleagues, in the free-spirited flow of the music, and in the audience - that it's impossible not to respond. And there's a subtle but powerful optimism at work that makes his compositions feel like an angel's embrace, or a reassuring hand on one's shoulder.
      Even more deliciously, there's an unmistakable glow of sensuality coursing through each tune - often hovering seductively beneath the surface, but occasionally propelled by the trio into a tension-filled torrent that produces an exhilaration so complete that it might almost be called ecstasy. (Jessicha Nicholas / The Age reviewing a concert in Melbourne January 17th, 2006 - read the entire review)

  • "Together they conjure impressionistic narratives. Stylistically, they allude to whispers of tango, latin, blues and funk. They hover around these styles, flirting and teasing with them but never owning them. Always lyrical, seductive and wistful the themes of works such as Twins and Still There are ignited by chromatic inclinations. Gustavsen toys with the intensity of the chromaticism until the energy dissipates into more palatable and candid harmonic schemes.
      The work of this trio is about the generation of colours. In this, the contribution of Vespestad is crucial. His signature use of tympani mallets at some points and two different mallets at the same time give the familiar drum set a rhythm make over. The pulse is never spelt out – there is an unconscious yet conscious pulse that threads. The synchronicity and the seamless baton between the musicians borders on the extraordinary and this is what makes the experience compelling.  With beauty at the forefront, Gustavsen's piano is the protagonist of these tales. He extracts the essence of his music like an alchemist." (Xenia Hanusiak / Melbourne Herald Sun reviewing a concert in Melbourne January 17th 2006)

  • "Gustavsen's music is often soft, but always intense. ... Even when he hits harder, Gustavsen is always evolving melody that serves the story. That story is about inner discovery, and Gustavsen can get there by whispering, or by rhythmic repetition that becomes incantatory. ... 
        Another reason that Gustavsen's music feels like one fabric is the integral role played by drummer Jarle Vespestad. On quiet numbers, Vespestad is willing to recede to the lightest splashes with brushes, or to the softest murmurings with mallets. But he is also a full participant when the music sweeps upward. Even when Vespestad is cutting loose, he comes from within the music, rather than imposing himself upon it. ...
        Tord Gustavsen is more than a promising new talent. He is already capable of providing a performance experience that is fascinating, affecting, and complete." (JazzTimes Internet edition, read the entire review)

  • "And even at its most splintered, the music remained intensely lyrical. ... Each player was given space to be heard separately; not in a cliché solo, routinely thrown in after so many bars, but as something genuinely arising from the progression of musical ideas. Harald Johnsen's work on bass epitomised this kind of intelligent exploration. There was nothing glib, either in his playing or the sound of his instrument. Barely amplified, it made all the clicks and thunks a proper double bass occasionally does as he crafted solos utilising the full range of the instrument.
        The performance of each piece was so seamless that, apart from a single drum solo, the only applause came at the end. The audience was quieter, and concentrated harder than any 'classical' audience I've encountered too.But the applause, when it came, was rapturous." (Music & Vision reviewing a concert in Bristol April 29th 2004, read the entire review)

  • "It's music that can convey more by implication than many another occasion will with fireworks or dancing bears, and the tunes, including the parting hymn, will likely stay longer in the mind." (The Glasgow Herald reviewing a concert in Glasgow May 13th 2004)

  • "Here jazz is deconstructed and then reconstructed into a beautiful new sound. Magical." (Oxford Times reviewing a concert in Oxford May 9th 2004, read the entire review)

  • "In a set remarkable for its musicality and expressivity, their self-imposed dynamic range ... drew you into to their music in the same way you instinctively lean forward in softly spoken conversation.
        Gustavsen is a pianist of poetic cast, a lucid soloist with a sure sense of melodic structure and an often astonishing lyrical imagination. With bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad, who followed the precise contours of his compositions with unflappable taste, they created music rich with inner meaning and nuance.
        You won't hear a more elegant or aesthetically rounded concert all year" (The Observer reviewing a concert in Bristol April 29th 2004, read the entire review)

  • “Groove-based, extremely subdued and even sexually evocative, the music of Norway's Tord Gustavsen Trio was some of the most beautiful and certainly the quietest. This was about mood and feel, brought to life by the astonishing precision of drummer Jarle Vespestad, whose contribution is defining without being prominent. An extremely accomplished pianist, Gustavsen mostly just danced lightly around his glistening little melodies, underpinned by rhythms that, although not unusual in themselves, were fascinating because of the way they were stated.” (Sidney Morning Herald reviewing a concert at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz October 31st 2004)

  • "But Tord Gustavsen's Norwegian trio is about less, not more. I have never heard a drummer play so little - and with such emotional impact - as Jarle Vespestad. In fact, all three players have a miraculous ability to pull you deeper and deeper into their orbit by leaving more and more space, until what you hear is almost nothing more than a memory.
        The lightness of Gustavsen's touch and the luminosity of his melodies can make this music almost unbearably beautiful. But there are also unexpected flashes of the blues, along with a remarkable ability to coax even the most delicate, lullaby-like sway into an unmistakeable - and irresistible - groove.
    But while the joyful fervour of gospel bubbles beneath the surface of this trio's playing, the overall mood is one of quiet restraint and extraordinary tenderness. There is an uplifting, almost hymnal quality to Gustavsen's writing, and in the hands of these three exceptional players, each tune resonates with the grace and subtle optimism of a wordless prayer.” (The Age - Melbourne, reviewing a concert at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz October 31st 2004)

  • Tord Gustavsen Trio at Merkin Hall, New York City April 2005