Tord Gustavsen and his small ensemble of musicians have created something truly amazing with this album. But listeners are required to ‘work’ for the many aural pleasures it offers, this is not an obvious album even if its sound quality alone will be enough for many. To my ears Gustavsen has found a musical balance with What was said that suits his prodigious talent better than most of his recent work. It’s a cinematic album dominated by female voice and, a first for Gustavsen, uses digital atmospherics and harmonies in the the background. It is also understated much like Gustavsen’s earlier albums and has the atmospherics and ‘colours’ of his small ensemble work.
Consisting of very mellow and in places dark tracks, What was said is illuminated by the unique voice of Simin Tander, a German Afghan, who sings poems in her father tongue Pashto, along with English translations of Persian poetry. Her voice combines with Gustavsen’s piano and Jerle Vespestad’s drums as if it were also an instrument, she is more of a vocalist than conventional singer. She is singing words but it’s the manner in which she sings them and not the lyrics that you notice.
Gustavsen’s playing is very economical, it conveys a lot with very few notes. His ability to mingle flamenco and classical tones alongside jazz and Nordic folk melodies is totally unique. I am surprised that it has not appeared on any of the Nordic noire TV programs (not that you’ve watched them! – Ed).
With What was said Gustavsen, Tander and Vespestad have created a musical landscape that is charged with emotion. The album is beautifully played and sung, it is also outrageously beautifully recorded. It has a haunting effect that’s not easily forgotten and is now on my shortlist for the album of the year. It is also in my very humble view one of Gustavsen’s best albums, and certainly his most special release of late.