Tord Gustavsan, solo at Salle Gésu  ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Tord Gustavsan, solo at Salle Gésu ©Brett Delmage, 2012

For his solo concert at Salle Gésu at the Montreal Jazz Festival on July 6, pianist Tord Gustavsen took his material from his Norwegian heritage – including from its hymn books.

Before an almost-full house, he played a subdued concert, whose musical soundscapes were as much about the space between the notes as their careful placement.

The audience responded with intent interest, and even more intense applause. He not only received an initial standing ovation, but then a second after the first encore, and was called back for a second encore.

The concert was the third in Gustavsen's four-concert Invitational series at the Montreal Jazz Festival. For the other concerts, he played with different combinations of Norwegian musicians each night.

This concert started out with “Prelude” (from his 2012 album, The Well) a slow, sparse number which Gustavsen described as a hymn, in which he swayed and appeared to sing with the music. It was followed by the standard “Beautiful Love” , which started with a rumble of bass notes almost reminiscent of thunder before alternating between abstract and romantic (almost Rachmaninoff ) treatments. In both pieces, Gustavsen's touch was delicate and careful.

He then returned to the religious mode, with “Sanctus” , which was adapted from the Norwegian Lutheran hymnbook, and showed some rural Norwegian folk influences in its patterns. It started out fast and abstract, but slowed to a processional pace with a heavy bass undertone and an intense feel. It was succeeded by a haunting, mournful section in which he alternated piano with melodica.

The mood lightened with “Backwards Blues” , introduced as a children's song. It started simple and clear, then moved into subtle variations. It built in intensity, then simplified again into a simple, slight melody, and then moved to strong chords and almost hymn-like structures, in an extended improvisation.

After a standing ovation, Gustavsen returned with a simple, folk-influenced ballad. The audience was not yet sated, however, and greeted that with another ovation. He finally finished with a standard, played with full romantic attention, which reached straight for the heartstrings to end this very quiet concert.

The concert was one in a series of piano concerts which the Montreal Jazz Festival featured in Salle Gésu, a medium-sized, intimate venue particularly suited to quiet music.

    – Alayne McGregor

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