Tord Gustavsen Quartet – The Well (2012)

The gap left behind by Esbjörn Svensson Trio is as uniquely shaped and difficult to fill as the band itself was unexpected. This is, of course, a very personal matter, as such a gap is relative to the sum of memories and emotions I ended up associating with E.S.T. – the very notion of a “gap” is perhaps a misnomer. However, I came across this record from Tord Gustavsen Quartet, and it made me feel like there’s a kinship, a sort of legacy in this music, or at least in my perception of it, and it alludes to E.S.T.


Of course, repeated listening has the tendency to dissolve such easily crafted illusions as clear-cut, definite resemblances between two jazz outfits with such different origins and approaches. The Tord Gustavsen Quartet is far less experimental and eclectic than E.S.T., and yet there’s a similarity, an echo of the same material, the same spirit infusing both these groups’ music. Perhaps my initial, almost ghostly, impression arose from the fact that this record starts off sounding like a trio. Percussion, double-bass and piano is all I can hear on the first couple of tracks of the album, as though the band is biding its time, setting the stage for the eventual entrance of the saxophone on the third track, the lovely, extensive, enthralling Suite. The whole record’s pace is set from this simple choice, the entire cohesion and eloquence the album brings to the table is summarized in this decision – to control, to dose, to observe rather than to show off, this seems to be the philosophy behind The Well.

Maybe its this remarkable patience and control that makes me feel this record is so predatory, so ominous. It seems that such a deliberate approach, such a show of restraint can only lead to a certain dangerous vibe within the music. The Well sounds to me like a musical form of conspiracy theory, shadowy rises and falls, convoluted references and connections, signals shooting out of corners, barely glimpsed… this music, perhaps more than any other I can think of right now, is a collection of interrupted, broken, mutilated silences. It’s always what’s in between the notes that creates the mood, especially if it’s a slow, serious, ominous mood like this.

There isn’t much more I feel like I should say about this record. It reminds me alternatively of Jan Garbarek’s work, of Keith Jarret and, of course, of E.S.T., although, as a rule, it’s a far less percussive, rock-oriented collection of songs than most of E.S.T. catalog. In any case, the influences I can detect, limited as this detection is by my lack of any true proficiency within jazz, are wonderful, and they’re very well assimilated and mutated within the new formula. The quartet functions like a fantastical bio-mechanical thing, one of H. R. Giger’s creations, odd, unsettling in its strange sexuality, scary in an unnamed, primeval way, perfectly balanced and finely tuned, elegant and evolving, slowly, coldly, right in front of our eyes. I hope you enjoy these selections from a singularly well put-together record, and I’ll see you soon.

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