Tord Gustavsen Trio, Stefano Bollani and Enrico Rava - Barbican, Wednesday 21 Nov - London Jazz Fest

In an evening designed to showcase the celebrated European record label ECM, listeners at the Barbican Centre were treated to a pair of highly differing acoustic performances. The Italian duo of maverick young pianist Stefano Bollani and veteran trumpeter Enrico Rava played with a zestful understanding that openly defied their age difference of more than 30 years. Long solo passages from both men were sandwiched between frequent periods of glorious interplay and, surprisingly, several warm doses of Mediterranean comedy. Bollani’s sense of humour especially shone through as he embellished his improvisation with inventive musical quotes and physical movement, such as closing the lid of the piano or gesturing to the heavens. Tord Gustavsen Trio, Stefano Bollani and Enrico Rava - Barbican, Wednesday 21 Nov - London Jazz FestTord Gustavsen and his fellow Norwegian sidemen displayed a complete contrast to this jovial mentality during their headline set, moving to the opposite extreme of the continental culture spectrum. Each musician played with a ferocious, powerful minimalism that has come to define the group’s burgeoning reputation. Drummer Jarle Vespestad showed the audience original ways of cymbal manipulation to generate minutely subtle shifts in mood, barely touching the drums themselves. His single solo could be likened to the performance of a master illusionist, using sleight of hand expertise to conjure epic visions into the minds of listeners.

The stoic figure of Harald Johnsen on double bass represented a ghostly presence on stage, taking the less is more approach to its ultimate echelon. Gustavsen on piano caressed the keys with a simple yet passionately virtuosic touch, animatedly swaying back and forth during solos and coaxing the group along with fragile, enticing melodies. The performance’s sole drawback was a tendency for the music to start sounding vaguely monotonous at times; undivided attention is absolutely required to appreciate the introspective magic of this captivating trio. How very ECM of them.

Frederick Bernas

Tord Gustavsen Trio - Barbican, Wednesday 21 Nov - London Jazz Festival
Opening with a three part suite, the Tord Gustavsen Trio immediately covered the audience in a warm and soothing cloak of sensitivity.  Their musical themes and ideas were laid out like a blanket on top of the frosty Norwegian ground.  Structurally sparse and icy like their native land, yet at all times maintaining a rich melodious quality, their compositions felt like coming in from a snowy night to sit by the fire.
Pianist Tord Gustavsen had a whispery sensuality about him that came though in both his personality and equally in his writing.  Hunched over his keys like a younger Bill Evans, Gustavsen seemed totally engrossed in his intricate playing; only occasionally rising passionately to his feet.  However, it can not be said that his volume or density matched the intensity of his performance.  Applying notes sparingly, in tiny fragmented phrases, the pianist created a musical landscape that was serene and natural.  Like the rippling waters of a vast Scandinavian fjord, the melodies had beauty without needing to be sensational.
On tracks such as; Tears Transforming, Draw Near and Vicar Street an affinity to classical and spiritual music from the west was evident, the harmonies and rhythms found in the trio’s arrangements feeling more akin to the European jazz cannon than their American counterparts.
The drumming from Jarle Vespestad initially felt over simplified, but with further observation his approach fitted perfectly with the bands overall direction.  Barely a snare shot throughout the entire concert, his intuitive use of the cymbals was highly effective using his instrument as a light atmospheric timbre, rather than a driving pulse.
Sadly however, audience members were leaving before the end and the feeling that the seemingly endless performance, albeit technically good, was quite frankly… well dull.  A simple lack of diversity or dynamics made the time drag, unfortunately leaving those watching it feeling isolated  and regrettably bored.   
Chris Ackerley

The Write Stuff

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