Tord Gustavsen is a Norwegian pianist who performs a form of jazz I have never encountered before. In an interview with Christian Stolberg he recently alluded to a “notion of abstract lullabies [which] still describes what I do quite well.” It is an amazing statement. I cannot thing of another musician who would have the guts to say such a thing. Moreover, after listening to The Well, it is an incredibly accurate description of the feelings one gets when listening to this music.
The Well contains 11 songs, all of which fall on the relatively “peaceful” side of the jazz continuum. The music Tord has composed for the quartet is certainly not of the usual “lullaby” form however. No, “abstract lullaby” is a well-chosen description. While the music is smooth, it is never smooth jazz. There is a great deal of creativity on display here, and it is a real treat to listen to a recording such as this, one which works on a number of levels.
First of all, there is the piano playing of Tord Gustavsen himself. His talent is appropriately displayed right from the beginning with the solo “Prelude.” The quartet is fleshed out with Mats Elertsen (double-bass), Jarle Vespestad (drums), and Tore Brunborg (tenor saxophone). In this context, Tore’s sax assumes the role of a vocalist, which Tord alludes to in the aforementioned interview, “There are definitely strong parallels between playing with Tore and playing with a singer in that Tore is really a strong melodic thinker.”
This is especially evident on the title track, and “On Every Corner.” Both of these display the unique power of the quartet, while the music is subdued on the surface, the solos from both players are wonderfully complex. The crisp tone of Tord’s piano throughout the album is another striking element. It adds a beautiful dimension, as does he exquisite playing. There is a moment during “Intuition” where it all comes together in a way that is mesmerizing.
To best describe the combination of the piano and saxophone during “Intuition,” I think a comparison is in order. This would be “Flamenco Sketches” from Miles Davis’ immortal Kind of Blue album. Towards the end of the track there is a moment when Bill Evans’ piano gently introduces a marvelously low-key solo from John Coltrane. I think anyone who is familiar with the song will recognize the moment I am describing. It is one of the most memorable musical combinations of all time, as far as I am concerned. Tord’s piano and Tore’s sax reach a similar apogee during “Intuition,” and it is a transcendent piece of music.
In fact, the whole album has that effect on me. There are times when I want to hear music that is wild and free, such as Coltrane‘s Ascension. There are also times when I am in a more reflective mood, and the music of Bill Evans often fills the bill. The Tord Gustavsen Quartet’s The Well also fits the latter role perfectly, and is a record I will be returning to many times. “Abstract lullabies” is a great term, and The Well is a great album.