Tord Gustavsen ‘Extended Circle’ (ECM) 4/5

2358 XNorwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen returns with a new finely balanced album as part of his now well established quartet including tenor saxophone. For the better part of a decade, Gustavsen has become a familiar and welcome part of the ECM roster and developed his own sedate, yet deeply soulful sound. He was last heard on the 2012 set ‘The Well’ and the latest release is his sixth album overall for the label. Already garnering a good deal of airplay is the radio friendly piece ‘Eg veit I himmerik ei borg’ (‘A castle in heaven’) which is actually based on a Norwegian folk tune and the relaxing groove is driven by a shuffling drum beat from Jarle Vespestad who excels throughout with his sensitive percussive accompaniment. On the melodic mid-tempo number ‘Staying There’, there are some New Orleans-esque drum rolls from Vespestad. Meanwhile for a quintessential ECM sound one need look no further than the superb ‘The Embrace’ which has both lyricism and grace in abundance and here piano and tenor saxophone are in unison with the building into a more uptempo groove with tenorist Tore Brunborg recalling Garbarek and even, surprisingly, David Sanborn. What is particularly impressive about the album is how the formations shift effortlessly and thus the austere sounding ballad ‘The Gift’ is performed as a trio minus horn as is the laid back opener ‘Right There’ while on ‘Entrance’ piano and saxophone duet to good effect. Gustavsen is a selfless musician who sees his own participation within the overall group sound, but he does nonetheless have the opportunity to take centre stage on the delicate ‘Silent Spaces’, the title of which pretty much says it all. In summation, nothing is rushed and everything fits into a logical progression where the compositions develop organically and there is a good deal of telepathic interplay between the individual constituents. A UK tour is imminent and will commence on 7th until 16th March. Tim Stenhouse