Thursday, August 26, 2010

Staff Picks: Tord Gustavsen Ensemble - Restored, Returned

All week, we'll be posting reviews of 10 new CDs just added to the AccuJazz Staff Picks channel. You can keep tabs on all the reviews as they come out here.

8) Tord Gustavsen Ensemble - Restored, Returned (ECM)

Restored, Returned is on ECM records, and that's right where it belongs. ECM is known for its spacious, minimalist, Euro-centric jazz-derived music, and pianist Tord Gustavsen's new disc is all of the above. The music on Restored, Returned is unusually spare, sometimes prompting my jam-session-drummer-self to wonder "are you allowed to do that?" And the music answers, "Yes, you are allowed to do that, and while I have your attention, why don't you listen a little closer. Hear those few notes on the sax, that one cymbal swell. Listen to how they resonate in the air, how you hear the overtones of Major 7 #11 chord more clearly than you ever have before. Isn't that beautiful?" "Yeah, sure is. Sure is," I answer, dumbfounded.

Gustavsen's previous three discs for ECM were with his longstanding trio of piano, bass and drums. Restored, Returned is the debut of the "Tord Gustavsen Ensemble," which adds saxophone and vocals to the mix (and switches out the bass player). Saxophonist Tore Brunborg is right in tune with Gustavsen's muted, subtle aesthetic, playing melodic, carefully considered solos that never get louder than mezzo forte.

Vocalist Kristin Asbjornsen is a striking presence, with a voice that is at times dreamy and soothing, at others earthy and gruff. Like the rest of the music on Restored, Returned, Asbjornsen's voice is rich with layers of subtlety. Listening to the symbiosis of Asbjornsen and Gustavsen, I can't help but think of The Bad Plus' addition of rock vocalist Wendy Lewis on their 2009 album For All I Care (one of my favorites from last year -- ah heck, anything by TBP is automatically in my all-time favorites). The music in question couldn't be more different, but it's the same scenario of a longstanding instrumental jazz group adding a female vocalist from outside of the jazz world. It's a risky and outside-the-box move on the jazzers' parts, and the rewards in both instances are many.

Listen to the Staff Picks channel here

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