Tord Gustavsen Ensemble - Restored, Returned - ECM 2107


An interview with Tord Gustavsen

After three highly successful trio albums - "Changing Places", "The Ground", "Being There" - amongst the most popular ECM recordings of the last decade, you're proposing a strikingly different music and introducing a reconfigured band on "Restored, Returned". It's hard, of course, to add a fourth volume to a trilogy (!), but did you feel that the trio format had run its course?

Trio playing is still a fundamental passion for me. And I still value the quality of staying with things in organic growth and development, rather than the restlessness of always introducing contrasts and changes in personnel and approach. But this was a very good time and place to take some of my side projects – musical relationships developed over time alongside the trio work – into the main frame of an album release under my name.

Furthermore, I feel that the new ensemble is just as much a natural prolongation of what I have been doing in the trio as it is a "different" kind of music. Musical intimacy – a strong focus on making small details and finer nuances breathe and grow – is just as central to it all. The melodic emphasis is there, the urge for stripped-down beauty. And lastly, several of the new compositions are based on musical miniatures that kept happening as improvised interludes during trio concerts; a form of abstract lullabies combining tonal ambiguity with almost simplistic melodic movements. So, although the music is different with new colours added, the link between the new ensemble and the trio period remains strong.

An interview with Tord Gustavsen

Some of the new music was written in response to a commission from the Vossajazz Festival. Live performance there included Cecile Jørstad on spoken-word vocals as well as Kristin Asbjørnsen on sung vocals. How did you arrive at the final line-up for the album?

The spoken-word part of it was in Norwegian, thus not very accessible for an international audience. Furthermore, as much as I want an album to have a unified, overall purpose offering something unique to those who listen through it as a whole, I also wanted the release to consist of tunes or songs that can be listened to as individual tracks or small "mantras". I wanted to approach the album just as much as a collection of cherished melodies, as a unified "work". The concert version with spoken word and musical transitions binding everything together seemed better suited for stage than album in this respect.

You've often said that singers are amongst your most important influences as a player and have had an impact on your own shaping of a melodic line. On "Restored, Returned" 'singing' seems to be central to the music. As well as Kristin's contribution, we have the fine post-Garbarek saxophonist Tore Brunborg, singing through the medium of his horns. How does the proximity of such musicians change your role in the ensemble and what can be said about responsibilities and freedoms for the assembled improvisers here?

Interacting with strong lyrical voices is a huge inspiration for me. Inviting Tore and Kristin into the ensemble changes my role a bit of course; there is slightly less piano featured in theme statements, and also less piano "soloing" in the traditional sense. ...

An interview with Tord Gustavsen

However, Tore and Kristin share a fundamental duality in their playing and thinking: They are very strong individuals with characteristic sounds and highly original phrasing, but at the same time very committed ensemble players. Both of them move seamlessly between supportive and soloistic aspects of their musical presence, making the totality of the ensemble a dream forum for creative interaction for me. So, the change in my role is not all that drastic – it is more an addition of two more dialogues in the overall musical conversation.

As well as ensemble playing, the music also develops through sequences of duo and trio interaction – was this part of the ground plan? And did the approach to the work change in the course of recording it?

The album is more about exploring the different duos and trios and quartets within the totality of the five people than it is about using the full force of five voices together, yes.

This was not really a plan in the first place, but developed very naturally. Part of the reason is probably that I have been doing a lot of duo playing over the years, including duos with both Kristin and Tore. And there have been frequent piano-drums duo sequences with Jarle in trio concerts, too. The transparency and musical flexibility of duo settings are very appealing to me; and in the abstract lullabies on this album, like the opening and ending pieces with Tore and Kristin respectively, we get a fragile yet comforting sound in the duos which really made the compositions shine the way I wanted them to. The approach to the material changed slightly during the recording session, but more regarding the order of the tunes than regarding arrangements. Here, Manfred Eicher played a very fruitful role in hearing the material with fresh ears and suggesting adjustments and re-grouping of tunes.

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