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Tord Gustavsen Quartet

Extended Circle

ECM **** RECOMMENDED
 

Book-ended by hypnotic trio pieces joining pianist Gustavsen once more is the line-up from The Well: tenor saxophonist Tore Brunborg, bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Jarle Vespestad. Opener ‘Right There’ takes you back to the atmosphere of The Ground when the late Harald Johnsen was in the band and the trio’s finest hour. That spooky super-emotive spiritual sound that only Gustavsen can produce hits you smack in the face; it’s all in the timing and Gustavsen’s manipulation of silence for dramatic effect is immediate. The Norwegian hymn ‘Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg’ (‘I Know A Castle In Heaven’) might not quite have the drama of the opening piece, which is actually more hymn-like paradoxically, yet drummer Vespestad makes his presence felt here brilliantly, and Brunborg’s magisterial offerings resemble a stage actor limbering up for a crucial soliloquy. Brunborg is magnificent throughout, less Garbarek than on The Well more his own person while the suite-like ‘Entrance’ shows how the band can operate in a hugely stripped down setting, all difficult pauses and notes freighted with cool emotion while ‘The Gift’ allows Gustavsen to rhapsodise beautifully again, a veritable horse whisperer coaxing the humanity out of the perspiring body of the quartet. ‘Staying There’ opens out for Mats Eilertsen to sit behind Brunborg as the pulse of the quartet settles and Gustavsen channels the gospelly end of (unavoidably) Keith Jarrett’s approach. You might need some patience with ‘Silent Spaces’ although the process rewards very close listening, the softer the four play the more magical the effect. The folk-like fragmentary opening of ‘Entrance, var.’ is more of a surprise given what’s gone before; but ‘Devotion’ (an adaption of a piece from a commissioned work for the Nidaros Cathedral Choir) goes deeper still into the spiritual domain with a wonderfully poised Brunborg opening deep and slow Gustavsen tracking him relentlessly, never missing a pause or interfering with the character in Brunborg’s softly unfolding melodic progression. ‘The Embrace’ somehow manages to inject a naïve joy into the album at this late stage and that lightness of mood is needed. But ‘Bass Transition’ perhaps less essential; the invigorating ‘Glow’; and finally, magically, ‘The Prodigal Song’ then complete an album that the pianist sees as the last part of a “double circle” of trilogies and that has an inescapable grandeur to it.

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