Tord Gustavsen Trio: Changing Places

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ECM; www.ecmrecords.com.

On this, the first recording of Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen under his own name, he makes every note ring like a meditation bell. Gustavsen is a jazz musician with extensive training in theory, but his 13 original compositions on Changing Places—most played at slow, contemplative tempos with an acoustic trio—come across with striking simplicity. The songs feel familiar upon first listen, as if he has tapped some primordial well of European folk and African American blues melodies and fashioned them into lyrical tunes upon which he and bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad elegantly and spaciously improvise.

The pieces—with such evocative and wholly appropriate titles as "Deep As Love," "Graceful Touch," "Melted Matter," "Song of Yearning," and "Where Breathing Starts"—gently draw listeners into a rippling flow that makes it easy to surrender any preconceived notions about "abstract" modern jazz or "chilly" Nordic music.

A smoldering intensity dwells deep below the beautiful, shimmering surface of these hummable tunes, indicating the churning intelligence behind their graceful structure and execution (and making for some especially satisfying listening). But only occasionally does the pace accelerate from that of a melancholy meditation into anything remotely resembling an upbeat jam.

The 33-year-old Gustavsen has written of his interest in the tension between "the rationality of constructing musical structure and the 'irrationality' of devotion and transcendence"—a phrase that would bring a smile to the face of many a yogi. His own musical resolutions of that paradox prove that he belongs in the ranks of such great contemplative jazz pianists as Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Paul Bley.

Contributing Editor Derk Richardson writes about popular culture for Yoga Journal, Acoustic Guitar magazine, and SFGate (www.sfgate.com). He lives in Oakland, California.