If you have not heard Tord Gustavsen’s seminal albums this will be, for the most part, a musical joy and a refreshing experience as you discover a quiet but powerful force in contemporary music. Gustavsen and his musical partners are treading on slightly new ground, replacing some of the very melodic and lyrical expressions from previous albums (especially the first three) with a more sombre and introspective style. Gustavsen fans will note the continued use of his trade mark phrasing that fuses tango and flamenco with a blend of instrumental expression that is lacking the macho and senseless speed of modern jazz. The album will reward fans of music and not the devotes of genres of musical this-or-that, it requires a measure of patience and cerebralism and rewards with intoxicating strands of notes, rhythms and harmonies that are not quite jazz nor quite classical. Modern his music is, but it owes much to musical routes that are not tied to jazz.
The Tord Gustavsen Quartet is Gustavsen (piano), Tore Brunborg (saxophone), Mats Eilertsen (double bass) and Jale Vespestad (drums). They play with what sometimes sounds like a telepathic connection, the music is flowing, never forced, the instruments synergistically apply themselves without any clear lead or a dominant member. Gustavsen’s melodies veer from tango to classical, from arabesques to flamenco to jazz in a seamless style that is never exaggerated or sounds gimmicky, the sound is understated but never dull. It’s as musical as it is lyrical and tuneful.
Extended Circle will satisfy music lovers who wish to explore how much can be encompassed and expressed in just a few notes. I have listened to the album four times due to some heated debate with the esteemed editor regarding its euphonic qualities, and it sounds richer and more engrossing with each session. For those who own Gustavsen’s previous albums please note, the sound quality of the recording is different. The album has a warmer less open sound than the last one, it isn’t worse, it is just quite different. It means that you can enjoy the album with not a single iota of fatigue at the high volume levels that it sometimes requires. Instruments are accurately placed in the sound stage and the ECM recording avoids an unrealistically wide piano effect which is common to many recordings. To my ears Right There (1), Staying There (5), The Embrace (9) and Glow (11) are the best pieces on the album and are the equal of Gustavsen’s best work. The Embrace, however, takes the gong and best demonstrates the ability of these four musicians to create a very special and compelling musical statement, the like of which one rarely hears. If your collection includes both jazz and classical music you owe yourself an introduction to this musician. For anybody who wishes to bathe in the glow of musical creation at its best Extended Circle is highly recommended.