ECM 1802
label website

Manfred Eicher's ECM Records label in Munich is justly famous for both its artists' roster and recording quality. In many ways, the Tord Gustavsen Trio's The Ground smirks and whispers, "you ain't heard nuttin' yet." Well, that's true only if you have somehow missed their 2003 release Changing Places [ECM 1834]. Even though only 35 years of age, Norwegian pianist Gustavsen recalls the late -- read mature -- Bill Evans. Perhaps most unique about this formation playing exclusively original material is their insistence on lyricism, an aesthetic that has much in common with the legendary and equally elegiac Missouri Skies, that stupendous masterwork duet between Pat Metheny and Charlie Haden.

We never leave the dreamy Chamber Jazz milieu for proof of technical pyrotechnics which are usually what young lions wish to show off. Not here. Neither does Gustavsen default into Windham Hill-flavored Jazz lite triteness. And that uncanny balance is precisely the hypnotic allure of Tord's playing his own charismatic compositions backed up by Harald Johnsen on double-bass and Jarle Vespestad on drums. The minimalist yet highly sophisticated mood never wavers. It recalls another favorite of mine, Tiny Island on Opus 3. Like Missouri Ski and the best of Øystein Sevåg, our Norwegians here are expert story tellers with endless unhurried time on their hands.

With a fantastic gift for probing melodies punctuated by loud silences, this trio weaves its spell amidst the bluish mists. Forsaking hard-driving Jazz romps for a more introspective orientation, The Ground never veers into abstract navel gazing and thus never disconnects the listener from her emotions to feel stranded in some elusive geometries of the higher mind as certain advanced Jazz is wont to. No, this is very evocative yet earthy music. It speaks of far horizons, the comfort of aloneness, vast and calm vistas. It's what I think of the perfect music for a rainy day. It's got tremendous depth in the fashion of sketches that say far more than is actually shown. It's imaginative, moody twilight music. And it's simply gorgeous yet utterly free of cloying sweetness. In short, it's what artists aspire to as a distillation of their craft once more youthful excesses have burned themselves out. It's why the Indian esoteric tradition revers ash as the symbolic essence of what remains when fire has consumed all the unessential. The Ground is like such ash - concentrated, stripped off the superficial but still endowed with the warmth of the living.