Jazz Pianist Tord Gustavsen Plays on his own 'Ground'

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Robert Siegel talks with Norwegian Jazz Pianist Tord Gustavsen about the art of jazz improvisation and his new album The Ground.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

And this is the quiet, intricate music of Norwegian jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen.

(Soundbite of jazz)

SIEGEL: Tord Gustavsen is 34, and his two albums have gotten rave reviews. The first one, "Changing Places," even drew some comparisons to Miles Davis' classic "Kind of Blue." Now comes the second. It's called "The Ground."

(Soundbite of jazz)

SIEGEL: Gustavsen composed all the tunes on the album. The music draws on many sources: gospel, blues, even tango. But always there's the cool, reflective quality of Scandinavian jazz.

Mr. TORD GUSTAVSEN (Jazz Musician): The way we play is a lot about space, about emphasizing the openness of the music, and there are a lot of melancholy moods. There are a lot of almost meditationlike openness in the music.

(Soundbite of jazz)

SIEGEL: We're hearing a lot of the Caribbean there in that song.

Mr. GUSTAVSEN: Oh, yeah. There's a definite inspiration from Caribbean music and also from the very early roots of jazz, from the blues and from New Orleans blues in our music, even though it's definitely contemporary European music also.

(Soundbite of jazz)

Mr. GUSTAVSEN: In this particular tune there is the considerable amount of Scandinavian folk also in this, so it's not an attempt to play any kind of style authentically.

(Soundbite of jazz)

SIEGEL: But you say there's something Norwegian in here as well.

Mr. GUSTAVSEN: Yeah, there is. You know, the way you have here like a 6/4 or a 3/4 meter going on with kind of an odd division of meter--that's something that is very present in Norwegian folk music--actually dance rhythms where the meter is really complexly carried out.

(Soundbite of jazz)

SIEGEL: You wrote a thesis for your degree in musicology at the University of Oslo in Norway, and it is titled The Dialectical--it says Erotism--I think we would say `eroticism,' but maybe it's Erotism of Improvisation. Sex as metaphor for jazz improvisation?

Mr. GUSTAVSEN: I found that there was a lot to learn and really useful and fruitful parallels between the universe of musical improvisation and the challenges facing us in relationships. It's a very intimate relationship, one where you have a constant, ongoing process of call and response, of feeling each other's intentions and responding to each other's ideas.

(Soundbite of jazz)

Mr. GUSTAVSEN: And I'm very fortunate to have a drummer especially that is so involved in the melodic aspect of the music and that is so incredibly responsive and tender, you know, and he also has all the chops that you could ever want for doing whatever, wherever you ideas lead you.

(Soundbite of jazz)

SIEGEL: To use a metaphor for your piano playing, I hear you on track after track speaking to us, singing to us, sometimes whispering to us. I don't hear you in a full-throated shout bellowing to us, singing way out loud to us.

Mr. GUSTAVSEN: Yeah. No, the music is really about quiet intensity, about expressivity but in a minimalist setting, and music to me has to be elegant, subtle and relaxed, but also has to be very intense, and that's when I feel music is really flowing, when there are no gaps here, when we can bridge these somewhat paradox-ridden tensions.

(Soundbite of "The Ground")

SIEGEL: The title track of your new CD, also the last track from the CD, is called "The Ground."

(Soundbite of "The Ground")

SIEGEL: Certainly a lot of gospel sound there...


SIEGEL: ...in that opening.

Mr. GUSTAVSEN: Oh, yeah. It's almost like an abstract hymn to me, this tune, and I think it's just a matter of me going back to where my musical self is rooted. There were a lot of hymns, a lot of gospel music played when I was little.

(Soundbite of "The Ground")

SIEGEL: When you say hearing gospel when you were growing up, you mean in rural Norway? You're talking about Lutheran hymns, or were you hearing what we think of as gospel music here?

Mr. GUSTAVSEN: Well, both actually. Lots of Lutheran hymns, lots of hymns based on Norwegian folk music, but also spirituals from America were part of my musical landscape when I was young. You know, we got them in Norway already then and, you know, ever since it's become an even more globalized culture, so we can get music from all over the world, all over the world, and it's a fruitful, fruitful confusion.

(Soundbite of "The Ground")

SIEGEL: Well, Tord Gustavsen, thank you very much for talking with us and for talking with us about your music.

Mr. GUSTAVSEN: Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: That's Tord Gustavsen. His new album is called "The Ground."

(Soundbite of jazz)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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