Tord 4tet ExtendedThis is pretty much everything I expect meditative jazz to be: elegant, moody, lyrical and peaceful; organically human, yet cut with spiritual shards of light.

Label: ECM
Time: 12 Tracks / 51 minutes

When this quartet brought out The Well in 2012, it instantly became a firm favourite and a contender for my album of the year. Extended Circle (which Gustavsen sees as completing a trilogy from this quartet begun in 2009 with Restored, Returned) is very much from the same mould.

This release could almost be using The Well as a template. Both timeless collections are essentially meditative and start with a quiet trio intro; both have a second, re-arranged version of one track; both feature commissioned spiritual works; and both have a gently bluesy highlight as the fifth track.

Again, many parts of this set are sparse. On "Entrance," all the players are present, if largely inhabiting each other's spaces and "Silent Spaces" is a simple piano piece, played with the gaps showing.

The soulful, bluesy material is a surprising highlight. Given how relaxed and stripped back the tracks are across the disc, such pieces might threaten to break the mood, but they simply allow the band's elements to coalesce into a more noticeable form. "Staying There" is both a classic blues-infused piece of jazz and trademark Gustavsen.

Titles like "Devotion" and "The Prodigal Song" (and for those few who know their Norwegian, "Eg Weit I Himmeriuk Ei Borg," an old Norwegian hymn that translates "A Castle in Heaven") reveal the spiritual core of some of these pieces. Gustavsen refers to the latter as "a way of connecting with my own roots in church music," while the first is a variation on a commissioned piece for the Nidaros Cathedral Choir. Gustavsen took the "Alleluia" movement and turned it into a quartet piece.

Some tracks suddenly end when they could happy go on setting the mood for a while longer. "Devotion", "Glow" and "The Embrace" also see the quartet performing as a cohesive whole, at slow-mid tempo and producing beautifully lyrical work.

Other pieces chance a more adventurous approach. The old hymn has Gustavsen playing at typically meditative pace, exchanging call-and response licks at slo-mo speed with Tore Brunborg's graceful tenor sax, while drummer Jarle Vespestad's snare rattles along in fast-forward mode. The piece builds in intensity before falling back at the end. The adventurously titled "Bass Transition" is some 43 seconds of bass, taken from a similar solo piece that bassist Mats Eilertsen improvises live before a gig's final section.

At a push, The Well still just beats Extended Circle, thanks its more elegant melodies. But this recent release still offers plenty and reinforces the thought that every house that enjoys quiet jazz should have at least one copy of Gustavsen's work.

4tocks
Derek Walker
http://walkerwords.wordpress.com

 

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