on May 19, 2004
Norway has produced Jan Garbarek & Tord Gustavsen, I think I will have to move there.This cd "Changing Places" (what a great title) has music that touches the center of your being. I have just heard Tord for the first time, & I had to repeat playing the cd. This musician has a musical depth, his harmony & melodic structures give this cd an enchanting freshness that seems to come from the Nordic folklore & music that I beieve inspires his & Jan Garbarek's music. I was at a Jan Garbarek concert in Sydney 2 months ago, the question could have been asked "is it jazz?". But Tord like Jan are improvisors of the highest order, it certainly is not jazz of the 30's,& 40's. For art to live there must be change. At some time in their career, Bird,Miles,Coltrane & Bill Evans were accused of not playing jazz, but they were, it was dressed in new clothes. I am very impressed with this cd & will be looking forward to Tord's next release. I wish him every success.
on February 29, 2004
Is jazz art? Listen to this music and you will not care. This is a subtle, understated masterpiece. If jazz is art, this is art. If jazz is not art, this is not jazz. This music is so filled with moments of astonishing beauty it is hard to review it. Just listen to "Where breathing begins"; on the surface the structure of the tune itself is very simple, the impression of simplicity is enhanced by the slow tempo, the gentle touch of the pianist, the carefully chosen notes, not one too many. Note how subtle changes in the tempo by the pianist creates tension, how the wonderfully gentle support of the bass and drums creates a 3-D impression. Improvisation moves longer and longer away from the tune without losing it for a moment, the intensity of the music increases in an interplay between the piano and base (don't miss the masterful work of the drummer!) with the tension no longer created by suble changes in tempo but in increasing complexity, force and loudness until a climax is reached and suddenly the tune is back- simple, silent and understated and it is all over - all too soon! - This is a wonder!
Every piece of music on this CD is full of small miracles. This is no music that can be fully appreciated in the car or while working, it demands full attention. Otherwise as superficially cold, slow and simple it may be mistaken for some boring down-tempo variations on classic music or even musak. So deep feelings and so much intelligens is built into this music that you have to go beyond the surface and really listen to the faintest whisper and weakest heartbeat to find the soul of it - and you will be fully rewarded. This is one of maybe 5-6 CDs worthy of a five-star rating this year!
on January 28, 2004
I will admit I was swayed by the sterling reviews this CD has garnered here and elsewhere in deciding whether to purchase it. I've listened to "Changing Places" many times, and the title sums up the experience I've had. Invariably, pianist Tord Gustavsen and his fellow trio members, Harald Johnsen playing double-bass and Jarle Vespestad, will carry you from the here and now to a calmer, deeper state of mind.
Better reviewers than I have noted the lineage of this music, from Bill Evan and Keith Jarrett forward. Others have slammed this session for its seemingly somnolent tone (a view which I take issue with).
Quite a bit happens throughout these songs as the trio, following Mr. Gustavsen's elegant direction, weave interesting structures, themes, and counterpoints. This music beckons for high fidelity, solitude, and a fireplace, but it also sounds splendid through headphones while working on the Macintosh.
There is, however, not a great deal of variation in tempo and style throughout these selections, though repeated listenings reveal subtleties and nuances that may go unnoticed if one is not focusing on the music.
My opinion is that this is a very good, very typical ECM recording, characterized by crisp sound and carefully measured, slow tempo jazz.
If you are interested in exploring other piano trios that offer a strikingly different listening experience, I would recommend that you check out the Esbjörn Svensson Trio (E.S.T.).
on October 27, 2003
Sometimes it takes me a while to get it. For some strange reason, I struggled to find the context, the vibe, for this music (even though, once I got it, it was pretty obvious)--then it just clicked in: ECM down-tempo jazz.
What threw me, I think, is that there's never been an ECM outing quite like this one. ECM, of course, had pioneered down-tempo jazz as long ago as 1974 with Jan Garbarek's great release, Witchi-Tai-To (misspelled, by the way; composer Jim Pepper spells it Witchi-Tia-To). Over the years, with artists like Dino Saluzzi, Terje Rypdal, Haden/Garbarek/Gismonti, John Taylor, Charles Lloyd, Arild Andersen, Misha Alperin, Ketil Bjornstad, Vassilis Tsabropoulos, ECM has perfected the down-tempo jazz aesthetic.
What separates Tord Gustavsen's Changing Places from the above artists is its extreme melodicism. In contrast, for example, Garbarek's down-tempo approach has always been folk (and, to a lesser extent, rock)-rooted; Lloyd's, gospel- and spiritual-rooted; Saluzzi's, tango-rooted. The music of Rypdal, Alperin, Andersen, and Bjornstad has a kind of sweep and grandeur completely lacking in Changing Places.
To these ears, Gustavsen sounds most like John Taylor, but even more delicate, pretty, and melodic than the great British pianist--so much so that I initially mistook Changing Places for some kind of pop/classical/New Age melange.
A closer listen began to reveal its authentic jazz sensibility: the lilting bluesiness of "Ign," the jazz/tango roots of "At a Glance" and "Melted Matter," the latter the most starkly beautiful number on the disc, and one of the most poignant and purely beautiful jazz songs ever recorded. One of the startling things about this disc is its complete lack of melancholly, a staple of down-tempo jazz and of most Nordic jazz artists. Wistfulness, poignancy, longing, maybe just a tinge of sadness--but no melancholly.
I don't hear much if anything of either Bill Evans or Keith Jarrett in this music. The fact that it is melodic and pretty, as Evans was and Jarrett is, doesn't necessarily mean it derives from them--or even sounds much like them. Instead, it sounds like European classical music and tango are the main influences--although Gustavsen betrays neither none of the stiffness of many jazz-slumming classical pianists nor the overly mannered playing of many tango-oriented musicians. Rather, I detect a sly and completely unexpected bluesiness (although of a European rather than American flavor) and very subtle though sophisticated Latin rhythmic feel (again, mainly tango-based, although seemingly owing nothing to Astor Piazzola, the late great master and inventor of the New Tango) that gives his compositions the spine and character that New Age music lacks.
It strikes me that what this really is is a world-jazz disc, although of a very unusual and subtle type. In any case, Changing Places is a truly remarkable disc that should appeal to a wide range of listeners.
on June 8, 2003
I hunted this new release down after reading a glowing review in June's Stereophile Magazine and boy, was it worth it! Not only are the compositions striking and moving, but the recording and engineering are spectacular.
My favorite cut "Where Breathing Starts" transported me to far away places in my mind where the music became almost tangible. I can't express it very well, but I felt as if I was actually travelling through time and space.
"Graceful Touch" also shows off the amazing talent of Gustavsen's composing and playing and involves Harald Johnsen on double bass and Jarle Vespestad on drums so seamlessly that they almost sound as if they were one person magically playing some kind of do-it-all instrument. Gustavsen modulates his rhythm and sometimes strikes the keys ever so slightly off the beat that it creates an ebb and flow of rhythmic tension that just carries you off into another world.
I believe that this CD benefits greatly from a good stereo system, having listened to it casually in the car and critically at home. The better the equipment, the more involving this CD becomes. The music comes from an almost unbelievably dead silent background and is recorded with a clarity and presence rarely seen in commercial CD's these days.
The mood here is one of extreme relaxation. Nothing is ever forced, although Johnsen goes just a little wild in the middle of "Where Breathing Starts". A lesser bassist would not be able to pull it off, but Johnsen not only manages to do it with style, but it ends up making you realize what a talent he actually has.
Gustavsen's classical music experience provides some of the modulations, but this album is all jazz. The kind of jazz you only wish you could hear after hard day or during an intimate dinner. Vaguely reminiscent of Ellis Marsalis' cool style on his "Heart of Gold" CD from 1992, but even more contemplative and much more enticing.
I strongly recommend this CD for both the music and the recording quality especially if your stereo is up to the task of reproducing it in all its quiet detail.
on May 10, 2003
If you enjoy the music of Keith Jarrett, this is a must CD. Tord Gustavsen not only plays with the beauty of a Keith Jarrett, but has a "Bill Evans" haunting sound in takes like Melted Matter. Gustavsen is also very exact and simple in his playing, similar to the preciseness that the late jazz pianist Bill Evans demonstrated. There is great beauty in not rushing the music and allowing space and time to fill the voids, adding to the complete musical experience. Tord Gustavsen seems to have mastered this approach to jazz piano playing.
Another nice suprise on this CD has to do with the quality of the composing. I sometimes shy away from CD's from new artists who write their own music, opting for a set of standards. However, this CD takes off with an array of great original songs, composed by Tord Gustavsen. Not only does Gustavsen exemplify great elegance in his playing, but he demonstrates a gift for composing. This is an outstanding CD and a must addition for those who enjoy the contemporary jazz pianist such as Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, Eric Reed, Bill Charlap, etc.
on July 9, 2004
Lyric, melodic, hypnotic, definitely cool jazz. The cuts on this 66-minute CD are like chilled vodka over ice, way, way after midnight.
The opening tracks, "Deep as Love" and "Graceful Touch," are aptly titled, both leisurely and tense, seeming to willfully resist movement forward, keeping the lid on, as fingers lightly touch keys and strings and then break out in brief releases of strength, which are quickly contained again. You listen, rapt.
Nervous energy surfaces more urgently in the following "IGN," and then we are back in the lingeringly cool groove with "Melted Matter," breaking out at moments in the following "At a Glance," which ends again quietly.
And so it goes. This is a wonderful CD for lights-low, after hours listening. The booklet that comes with it has portrait shots of the trio: Tord Gustavsen (piano), Harald Johnsen (double-bass), and Jarle Vespestad (drums). Recorded in Oslo.
on February 14, 2004
When I heard a few notes of this album on NPR's "All Things Considered," I was immediately hooked. That was six months ago, and I still listen to the CD several times a week. I saw the Tord Gustavsen Trio at Joe's Pub in NYC. The audience was asked to be as quiet as possible because the music itself is so quiet. To hear these three guys play on the CD is mesmerizing, but to see it and hear it live is beyond that. The playing is brilliant, intuitive, and pure genius. Jarle Vespestad pulled out a cloth napkin to play the snare and played the cymbals with his finger tips, and Tord hummed along, and I couldn't have been happier. The comparisons have been made to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, which is inevitable I suppose, but they are hardly apt. I'll take Tord over Keith Jarrett any day, and as important as Bill Evans is, Tord has already achieved a sound Bill Evans would envy. Buy a copy of this CD for yourself and for all your friends.
on May 28, 2004
When I first heard "Changing places" I thought it was very precise and technically flawless, yet it felt "cold", devoid of warmth. How wrong I was when I heard it again and again. Not only is it warm and appealing to many listeners across many genres, it is a masterpiece, impossible to overlook.
This recording will grow with you. I envisage that I will be enjoying this recording by this Norwegian Trio as much now as I will for many years to come.
Listen to the Tango-like tunes - very subtle and interesting. Obviously Tord Gustavsen is supported well with the equally talented Harald Johnsen on double-bass and Jarle Vespestad on drums.
Not just background music, although it is excellent for party dinners or simply in front of the fire with a nice red!
I recommend it!
on December 4, 2003
My tastes tend toward traditional, acoustic jazz. However, piano-centric jazz often leaves me flat. Not so here. Though much of the CD is so impossibly mellow that it could be background music for the most easily distracted reader, I find the music and melodies to be the perfect music for quietly listening with a hot cup of tea. Both the melodic originality and the varied use of keys to alter moods hold my interest. Though Gustavson is sometimes being compared with Bill Evans, and the comparison is not without merit when thinking of the tempo and instrumentation he prefers, he has a distinct voice. I wouldn't give five stars to many jazz offerings from recent years, but this one earns it easily.