What Was Said
Tord Gustavsen (piano), Simin Tander (vocals) & Jarle Vespestad (percussion)

Recorded April 2015 in Rainbow Studio, Oslo, Norway
CD No: ECM RECORDS 475 8697
Duration: 60 minutes
Reviewed: February 2016

Tord Gustavsen leading a piano trio of hushed introspection? So far, so familiar: the surprise is that instead of double bass we have the Afghan-German vocalist Simin Tander, singing arrangements of traditional Norwegian hymns in Pasho and English, using lyrics from the Afghan poet B. Hamsaaya, the 13th-century Persian mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi, and proto-Beat poet Kenneth Rexroth.

The idea may look studious in print but it sounds beautiful, the linguistic leaps across cultures and centuries barely discernable in music of great delicacy and emotional range. The dance between Gustavsen’s haunting piano and Tander’s near-whispered voice, full of yearning and melancholia, recalls most closely John Taylor and Norma Winstone in the earlier ECM trio Azimuth, but the drifting melodies, and sense of overhearing another’s thoughts rather than being sung at also hint at Joni Mitchell or even late-period Kate Bush. This sense is reinforced by poetic song titles such as ‘Imagine the Fog Disappearing’, ‘What Was Said to the Rose’ and ‘The Source of Now’.

Vespestad’s drumming is suitably sparse and atmospheric: think mallets, shimmering cymbals and other colour splashes. The rare occasions he breaks into an overt rhythm are the duets with piano, such as the short instrumental tracks ‘The Way You Play My Heart’ and Keith Jarrett-esque ‘Rull’, as if laying down a beat over Tander’s voice would be an intrusion of privacy. Occasional piano-triggered electronics provide further colouration, such as the muffled pipe-organ sound back-dropping the closing track ‘Sweet Melting Afterglow’, but are never allowed to intrude.

The recording quality is up to ECM’s usual pristine standards, combining clarity of detail with a sense of airy spaciousness between each instrument, and the booklet comes complete with lyrics written in both Pasho and English.

 

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