Interview with ECM Artist Tord Gustavsen

Interview with ECM Artist Tord Gustavsen

Tord Gustavsen has recorded his sixth album for ECM and is due to go on tour across the USA, UK and Europe this spring and summer. The Norwegian pianist is joined once more by his quartet for Extended Circle, made up of Tore Brunborg on tenor saxophone, Mats Eilertsen on double bass and Jarle Vespestad on drums. The group’s interactions draw strength from restraint, patiently building the music toward its climaxes. Aesthetica speaks to Gustavsen about his approach to music making and his quartet.

A: The title of your sixth album is Extended Circle. This is quite unique, what was the thought process behind it?
First, the title highlights the fact that this album marks the completion of a double set of trilogies – an extended circle of albums exploring a specific approach to music and interplay; from related, but diverse and complementary angles. Second, the title also points to my passion for making both albums and concerts circular journeys – going from a point of contemplative stillness via expansion and subtle dynamics through chains of related musical scenarios and arriving at a point which is in a way the same as where we started, but with a deeper and fuller intensity and a restored and renewed spirit. It’s like liturgy or mass or musical love-making. The metaphors of the circle or spiral are much more meaningful to me than the metaphor of the straight line – both for describing development and artistic evolution at large, and for thinking about a performance or and album as a journey or a ritual.

A: For this album you are working with your quartet once more, what do they bring to your artistic production?
TG: They all bring unique qualities of artistic strength and musical humbleness. I love how they give so much of themselves into the music with creative interplay and fresh interpretation of my compositions, while still subordinating their egos to the musical unfolding and to the songs and the moods. It’s really a dream band for me; they are all masters of lyrical playing and intuitive counterpoint and supportive-yet-edgy playing.

A: When beginning a new album, what is your starting point? Do you begin with an overall idea or just one piece?
TG: We normally start with a collection of tunes that have developed over time in concert, so the recording is a kind of testimony to the band as a live-playing organism and to our repertoire at the time of recording. I may also compose a few additional pieces right before the session – and have some kind of vision or idea of the totality and of which are the most central pieces. But then, the basic challenge and blessing of the studio situation is to keep this vision alive while at the same time being fundamentally open to what happens there and then. And there are always surprises. Some tunes may turn out very different from how we play them in concert, whereas others may resemble the live versions more. And some pieces may turn out not as central or essential as I had thought. These considerations form in the light of the emerging album during the session and during mixing and setting of the track sequence (which was all done in less than three days this time). For example, on this album we actually omitted the title tune as it wasn’t really musically needed in the end. Also, we like to add a couple of free improvisational pieces and transitions – these can sometimes just work as transitions, and other times as full pieces or complete musical unfoldings in themselves, like the pieces Entrance and Entrance, variation on this album.

A: Do you have a favourite song on the album, or piece to perform?
They are all favourites – it is difficult to pick one. But I am very happy about the piece Glow for its warmth and for the dynamic-yet-unstressed feel. And I’m equally pleased about the opening suite of the minimalistic Staying There and stretching-out Eg veit i himmerik ei borg (A Castle in Heaven) – I feel that these two taken together really says a lot.

A: If you could collaborate with anyone else in the music industry who would it be?
TG: I actually have my dream band already, there is no one else I would rather work right now than these guys. Of course, there are many other fantastic musicians and singers that I may want to collaborate with in the future – for instance, I have done projects with Norwegian singers Susanna Wallumrød and Synne Sanden that I would love to take further when the time is right. I have written a mass for the Cathedral Choir in Nidarosdomen, Norway, that I would love to do in other cathedrals. And who knows, there may also be other instrumentalists waiting down the road.

Hear the track Glow and find out more about the Tord Gustavsen Quartet here.

1. Image of Tord Gustavsen courtesy of ECM and Hans Fredrik Asbjornsen.