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Albums We Love: Tord Gustavsen's "Extended Circle"

Watching Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen play is like watching an artist delicately paint the keys of his piano. When he speaks it’s barely above a whisper, his calmness contagious, unfolding through a room like the tantalizing scent of a bakery in the cold hours of early morning. The way he guides his quartet is remarkably parallel to the way he carries himself.

For the past decade, Gustavsen has released records exclusively for the ECM label. Extended Circle isthe third release with his quartet after a trilogy of previous trio recordings. The record is subtly playful, creating textures through space, time and motion.  As the title suggests, the harnessed kinetic energy is released as the songs grow and extended, as does his repertoire of musicians he’s interacted with over the years.

Pushing the boundaries of the extended circle is the minimalist saxophonist Tore Brunborg, bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Jarl Vespestad. On “The Embrace,” perhaps the most modern, soulful song on the record, Brunborg and Gustavsen make every note count, playing slowly, carefully, and complimenting each other on this whimsical flurry of pastels.

The opener, “Right There,” is a restrained and graceful piece, shifting timbres, and painting textures. It’s melancholy in nature, but hopeful, and probably influenced by the church Gustavsen was raised with.

The traditional Norwegian hymn, “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg,” (A Castle in Heaven), has a spiritual melody on piano and saxophone in the foreground, but is backed by funky drums and bass creating an intriguing compositional style.

There are so many words to describe Gustavsen’s newest outing: cerebral, whimsical, spiritual, calm. It is, is a decadent soundscape of timbres and textures and minimalist harmonies that you should listen to late at night while lying on your hard, wooden floor with your eyes closed, letting your thoughts and secrets consume you.

Tord Gustavsen Quartet, “Extended Circle,” ECM, 2014

Tord Gustavsen

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