Compilations / Mixes
Tord Gustavsen Ensemble: Restored, Returned
Tord Gustavsen's Restored, Returned isn't a high-intensity set of fire music but a tasteful and intimate session of spacious, oft-fragile playing. It's an ensemble-based recording of understatement and nuance with the focus on gospel- and blue-inflected settings, many of them distinguished by the vocal gifts of Kristin Asbjørnsen (and her recitation of W.H. Auden's words) and the serpentine playing of saxophonist Tore Brunborg. Listeners familiar with Gustavsen's previous output will note immediately the shift to a quintet format from the trio playing heard on Changing Places, The Ground and Being There. But even with the instrumental forces on Restored, Returned beefed up slightly, Gustavsen's music has lost none of its intimate character. If anything, the players' sensitive handling of the material suggests that they might have made an especial effort to ensure that that dimension of his music wouldn't be compromised. Like label compatriot Jan Garbarek, Gustavsen has an affinity for folk-like themes, as evidenced in “Spiral Song” where Brunborg's tenor sax playing (as it also does in the later “The Gaze”) exudes a robust quality that's also reminiscent of Garbarek.
Restored, Returned eases us in with a gently affecting lullaby (“The Child Within”) that pairs Gustavsen's spare piano chords and Brunborg's breathy soprano sax. Soon after, the slow blues-gospel of “Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love” introduces Asbjørnsen's raspy voice. The title track segues from a dirge-like opening featuring Asbjørnsen's vulnerable delivery into a gospel-tinged second half, highlighted by an even more emotional reading of the lyrics. Her presence also distinguishes the mini-suite “Left Over Lullaby No. 1 / O Stand, Stand At The Window” which moves from an opening section, where her wordless voice arcs in unison with the sax and piano, into a central voice-and-piano duet before returning to the wordless opening at track's end. If “Your Crooked Heart” sounds familiar, it's because it's an instrumental trio treatment of the song heard at the center of the mini-suite preceding it. The regulated pulse gradually loosens until all three—Gustavsen, double-bassist Mats Eilertsen, and drummer Jarle Vespestad—play freely, enabling the pianist to explore the song's melodies without restriction.
Compared to the trio releases, the new recording features a bit less of Gustavsen's own playing, with the leader opting to nurture the collective sound rather than push for solo space. Even so, it's the kind of recording where the players are in a sense always soloing, albeit doing so with collective focus and purpose. There's a constant stream of group-based interplay, in other words, rather than individual grandstanding where other players are relegated to back-up roles. That sensitive rapport is heard clearly during “Left Over Lullaby No. 2” when its gently soaring melodies are caressed by each contributor in turn with the utmost circumspection.