Two years after “Restored, Returned” introduced this line-up and with extensive touring behind them, on “The Well” the four musicians of the Gustavsen Quartet really blossom as a band in a programme of new tunes by Tord. Sax player Tore Brunborg is given an important voice here, his melodic lines combining bluesy sonority and Nordic cry. Gently but effectively propelled by the subtle pulses of drummer Jarle Vespestad and bassist Mats Eilertsen, Gustavsen’s gospel-tinged, unhurried piano playing displays a characteristic warmth and tenderness.
Norwegian trumpeter Mathias Eick opts for a different approach on Midwest. Four years after the song-like Skala, his sophomore ECM date that has attained "classic" status in European critical circles, he employs notions of history, folk tradition, and dislocation. This album was inspired by Eick's time spent playing the American continent; his tour began on the West Coast. When he entered the rural, upper Midwest and encountered its vast open spaces, he began to feel a sense of "home." He later learned that over the past two centuries of immigration, over a million Norwegians had settled there. After conceiving a "road" album that would begin in Hem, the village of his birth, and traverse the ocean to America, Eick enlisted violinist Gjermund Larsen (a folk musician who has contributed to Christian Wallumrød's ECM recordings), pianist Jon Balke, double bassist Mats Eilertsen, and percussionist Helge Norbakken. The compositions are all lyrical, in typical Eick fashion, but with Larsen they take on a rougher, more earthen quality.
The sixth ECM album from Tord Gustavsen, recorded in Oslo in June 2013, quietly but most assuredly takes the Norwegian pianist’s music to the next stage of its development. Gustvasen’s quartet with Tore Brunborg, Mats Eilertsen and long-term associate Jarle Vespestad has matured into a group whose interactions draw strength from restraint, patiently building the music toward its climaxes. Here are new gospel-tinged pieces and ballads from Tord’s pen, gentle and luminescent group improvisations, and an ecstatic interpretation of the Norwegian traditional “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg” (“I Know A Castle In Heaven”).
Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen has built a huge and enthusiastic worldwide following through his ECM discs and touring, and 'Restored, Returned' will broaden that popularity still further. After a trilogy of trio recordings - 'Changing Places', 'The Ground', and 'Being There' - which explored a clearly-demarcated melodic terrain, here is a strikingly different album from Tord Gustavsen at the head of a reconfigured band. Into the group come two Norwegian improvisers familiar to ECM listeners, bassist Mats Eilertsen and saxophonist Tore Brunborg.