Tord Gustavsen Ensemble
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Pianist Tord Gustavsen's contemporary European post-romantic music is perfectly suited for ECM Records, a spatial, introspective, demure jazz for dreamers. Restored, Returned departs from the strict piano/bass/drums format, adding vocalist Kristin Asbjørnsen, who sings lyrics in English, adding even more of a fantasy storybook element to the proceedings. Wispy and waspy tales of delicate sentiment — and of course lost love — make for a memorable if not intriguing statement, as Gustavsen and his group float above the clouds, looking down on foolish mortals, trying to understand our ways of the heart. Asbjørnsen's voice is dusky, a slight bit folkish in the Scandinavian tradition, compelling but not alluring. She cries out with equal portions of pain and hope during the title selection; is reassuring, as on the pop-styled ballad "Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love"; and waits by the window in passive reflection for three versions of "Left Over Lullaby." She makes a late arrival during "The Swirl/Wrapped in a Yielding Air," which starts in a sweet light funk rhythm with tenor saxophonist Tore Brunborg joining the group in a slight Michael Brecker visage as the piece beautifully unfolds. Her wordplay is derived from W.H. Auden's Another Time, dating back to 1940, as past and present meet. Of the instrumentals, the trio ruminates on the free piece "Way In," which is more dynamically present and features a rare solo from bassist Mats Eilertsen, while adding Brunborg's soprano sax for the somber waltz "You Crooked Heart," which builds a bit. Their instrumental crown jewel, "The Gaze," darkens into a midnight skulk via Brunborg's soprano sax, and the ensemble adopts a Keith Jarrett/Jan Garbarek stance for the lilting, easy Euro-swing of "Spiral Song." A certain symmetry within hushed tones is ever present, as there's nothing remotely approaching forte levels or kinetic tempos, as you should expect. In a way, Gustavsen is carrying the torch for the late Esbjörn Svensson in presenting new music that will not challenge the senses as much as it invigorates the imagination. As Asbjørnsen's singing is perfectly in sync with the music, this recording marks yet another chapter in the ECM discography, where subtlety is more important than boldness in this information-imploded world. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi