Home / CD Review: Tord Gustavsen Trio – The Ground

CD Review: Tord Gustavsen Trio – The Ground

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First posted on Mark Is Cranky:

Fans of pianist Bill Evans will probably bristle at the comparison here, but that was the first connection that popped into my head with The Ground. Well, go ahead and bristle away because label-mate Keith Jarrett and “new ager” Liz Story also came to mind.

The term new age was wrapped in quotes because, even though everybody seems to know what it means, it has become both meaningful and empty – applied to multiple (and very different) musics. George Winston, new age? Sure. Alex DeGrassi? Yes. Liz Story? Of course. Will Ackerman? No doubt.

The problem is that the effort to force a categorization gives hollow results. Think about something like Keith Jarrett’s improvised concerts. Jazz? Blues? Folk Song? New Age?


So while Tord Gustavsen’s trio lineup matches the classic jazz piano trio, the music breaks out of the jazz perimeter to encompass bits of other forms including blues, folk song and even the dreaded new age. The sharpest signals picked up by my ears was the muted soulfulness of Bill Evans and the lyricism of Keith Jarrett. Just below that is the playful music of a Liz Story and the folkiness of George Winston.

Gustavsen’s band avoids flash, but impresses by relying on sensitivity and quick interplay. Drummer Jarle Vespedstad quietly paints counterrhythms to the leader’s piano phrases using some tasty snare and cymbal work. The double-bass of Harald Johnsen, woody in the extreme (and I mean that in the best possible way!), never gets in the way and seems to lay the groundwork for the trio with phrases that foreshadow the piano to follow (“Reach Out And Touch” is a perfect example).

Gustavsen’s piano style ranges from subtle romanticism (“Kneeling Down”) to more modern shadings (the far too short “Interlude” fades with some gorgeous shifting block chords). Like his bandmates, flash is never considered as service to the melody and underlying theme takes top priority.

The Ground might not please listeners looking for an adrenaline wash of sound. It might not even please those expecting traditional jazz trio music. It’s that indeterminate ground gluing several genres together. That’s were interesting music thrives. It’s here.

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About Mark Saleski

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I’ll be a little disappointed in this one if it’s as wan as you seem to imply, Mark. I thought the first one, Changing Places, suffered from a little bit too much shapeless, soft material, and hence was little bit of a snooze, although gorgeous.

    I just saw these three at Merkin Hall three weeks ago, and they were fiery and swingy as can be at times, to great effect. I definitely heard a bit of that Debussy/Evans limpid business, too, and it was just pretty but so much more effective when mixed with some challenging, dissonant blues banging too.

    I’m glad you’re into him, as he’s an incredible talent. See them play live, for sure.

  • this is the first one i’ve heard of them, so i obviously can’t compare it to previous work.

    sometimes, i’m just in the mood for more reflective material.

    at the moment, i’m listening to the Marc Ribot ‘tribute’ to Albert Ayler, called Spiritual Unity. after stuff like that i feel the urge to ‘throttle back’, if ya know what i mean.

  • ClubhouseCancer

    I do. The guy’s touch is absolutely amazing on the washier, Bill Evans-y stuff. I feel like its important to note that he’s got a thornier side, too.

    Haven’t heard the tribute to Ayler by Ribot, but it sounds like a weird match to me. Sometimes Ribot just sucks, if you ask me. You got that Costello covers album Kojak Variety? What’s he doing on there besides not listening to the other guys?

    Does he approach the Ayler stuff with that kind of angular, skronky sound?

  • some of it is fairly respectful (what that word means in the context of Ayler, i’m not sure) and some is pretty angular.

    it’s not a solo record. it’s with Chad Tayler (Chicago Underground Trio) on drumms, Roy Campbell, Jr. on trumpet and Ayler cohort Henry Grimes on bass.

    worth checkin’ out…trust me!!

  • ClubhouseCancer

    That’s a good band. Grimes is a mischievous guy and a cool bassist. I’ll get it.

  • Found a long, live concert of the Tord Gustavson Trio. Look it up here [on my site. Added by Comments Editor for clarity. Don’t be shy Gil, so long as you’re legal!]]