Tord Gustavsen Ensemble: Restored, Returned
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Tord Gustavsen Ensemble
Restored, Returned

After three trio outings, Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen moves to a quartet format with Tore Brunborg (tenor and soprano saxes), Mats Eilertsen (double bass), and Jarle Vespestad (drums). Joining on several tracks is Kristin Asbjørnsen, an evocative stylist whose singing alludes to North American blues and spiritual traditions in riveting fashion without ever caricaturing them. Opening is a reflective Gustavsen-Brunborg duet, “The Child Within” and a brooding “Way In,” where piano, drums, and bass explore a soundscape as spare as ice. Enter Asbjørnsen with a gravelly yet tender rendering of “Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love,” invoking the subtle gospel feel that is so much a part of Gustavsen’s keyboard idiom.

The title track sees Asbjørnsen continue in her delicate interpretation of poems drawn from W.H. Auden’s "Another Time" (1940), with a call-and-response choral groove between singer and sax, riding over a gospel piano foundation. There’s something menacing about the interplay between sax, piano, and rhythm section on “The Swirl/Wrapped in a Yielding Air,” a slow burn whose magnificence builds relentlessly, carried forward by Asbjørnsen’s bantering, weary modulation somewhere between funk and airy coloratura. Other gems include Asbjørnsen’s take on a darkly meditative “Your Crooked Heart” and “The Gaze,” suggestive of Gustavsen’s earlier work. - Michael Stone

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