Image by Francesco Saggio. Concert review by F Mactaggart.
4 March 2016 – The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
It is hard to imagine a more fitting venue for Tord Gustavsen’s latest offering, than the contained Georgian elegance of The Queen’s Hall on Edinburgh’s south-side, and its still, very listening local audience.
Though this is not his first visit to Edinburgh, Gustavsen’s whispered introductions are helpful given his new direction: replacing the bass in his piano, bass and drums trio of yore, is the German- Afghan singer, Simin Tander. Since the success of his 2003 album Changing Places, a mix of Norwegian hymns and classic jazz, Gustavsen’s music has consistently impressed with its increasing minimalist, textural and reflective qualities.
However today’s gig takes this to the next level, as the trio presents songs from the latest album, What was Said: in the main, Norwegian hymns sung in Pashto and as Gustavsen put it, “freed from Protestant restraint”, intermixed with Sufi Rumi’s poetry sung in English. This unique mixing of Norwegian hymns, vaguely familiar to a Scottish audience, with the less familiar Pashto and Sufi poetry, intrigues.
So tonight the Nordic cool contrasts interestingly with the sensuous intensity of Tander, flamboyant in red dress. Center stage, her delivery ranges from whispered wisps of sound, through finely articulated hymns, to occasional intense moans and vocal expulsions. The precision and timbre are especially striking.
Meanwhile drummer Jarle Vespestad, long term collaborator with Gustavsen, offers the subtle textural support we expect from him, though in duet with Gustavsen, the romping gospel ‘Rull’proves a crowd – pleaser, it’s groove and maximalism offering timely contrast.
As for Gustavsen, between gentle explorations of some lovely hymn melodies, he for the most part offers slight, at times skeletal support for the vocals, but with such delicate intensity that every note seems to take on special significance. A sheen of piano-linked synthesizer now evokes the feel of a church service, later on a hint of Star Treky transcendence.
Overall this trans-cultural feast proffers a deeply satisfying audience experience, and though somewhere billed as ‘religious jazz’, for this reviewer, the sacred and profane seem in pleasing balance. Touring widely over the next 5 months, this is one not to miss.