Image of venue with musicians on stage

LIVE: Tord Gustavsen Trio – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 21/05/2022

In a consistently innovative and most impressive recording career that now stretches back almost two decades, Tord Gustavsen last month released Opening, his ninth album on the legendary contemporary jazz record label ECM. He is currently out on tour in support of the new album with his long-standing drummer Jarle Vespestad and recently introduced bassist Steinar Raknes performing as the Tord Gustavsen Trio. But in concert this evening Gustavsen first bypasses Opening and instead begins with two earlier pieces, ‘Token of Tango’ (the penultimate track on his second album, 2004’s The Ground) and ‘Kirken, den er et gammelt hus(from his last long player, 2018’s The Other Side).

The Norwegian jazz pianist and composer Todd Gustavsen is a man who goes his own way and, in this instance, Jarle Vespestad and Steinar Raknes immediately follow. The three men are as one, in complete creative harmony, and the music that they produce is intuitive, often highly improvised, and always completely immersive. Speaking to Gustavsen after this captivating performance, as instinctive as it was intense, the idea of a pre-determined setlist is clearly not something that he readily entertains. He just travels in the direction that the prevailing mood and feeling takes him. As a journey it is investigative, atmospheric, and absorbing and one on which we are highly privileged to have the opportunity to join him.

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During the course of this 80 minute set, the Tord Gustavsen Trio play ‘Helensburgh Tango’ from the new album and as the eerie sound of Raknes’ bowed bass interlocks with Gustavsen’s piano rolls the Scottish seaside town is presented in a vaguely sinister light. The ensuing compositions, both past and present – Gustaven describes the older material as being “in dialogue with the new” – embrace elements of Norwegian folk, gospel, jazz, classical (he “covers” one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s chorales), hymns, and even shades of rock music. At one point Steinar Raknes’ frenetic bowed bass on ‘Ritual’ assumes the personality of an electric guitar and puts me briefly in mind of passages from Traffic’s 1970’s opus The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.

Returning for their second encore the Tord Gustavsen Trio play ‘Came So Far For Beauty’ and the delicacy of their playing and use of space add a further spiritual dimension to Leonard Cohen’s tale of obsession and regret. It brings to a close a concert in which the integration of piano, bass and drums is total and its presentation in the perfect acoustics of the Howard Assembly Room – wonderfully sculpted here by the Trio’s sound designer Louise Lavoll – is a thing of hypnotic beauty.

Photos: Simon Godley

More photos from this concert are HERE

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