Enough ink has been spilled on Manfred Eicher’s outstanding Jazz label from Munich, Germany. He obviously was smart enough to land a superstar like Keith Jarrett, but they’ve been such an important driving force for contemporary jazz (and classical music) that you owe it to yourself to check out each new ECM release. To be fair, for me their output is hit and miss, on average every 2nd album I just love, every other is not my cup of tea. But I never regret checking them out.
Like Helge Lien (reviewed here), Tord Gustavsen comes from Norway. That, plus the fact that they both won an important Norwegian Jazz award, is probably the only apparent commonality between the two (plus the fact that they both have played with Silje Nergaard at some point, probably a mandatory rite of passage for Norwegian jazz pianists).
Lien is much more energetic, and experimental. Gustavsen in his arrangements in a way represents the typical ECM house sound, atmospheric, sometimes a bit detached, and extremely well recorded.
He has released a number of albums, mostly in trio, but also more recently with Saxophone, however, this 2004-5 album remains my favorite album of his.
The Ground was Gustavsen’s 2nd ECM album, after the equally beautiful Changing Places, which gave him quite some visibility.
His style is really the opposite of what was developed by Esbjörn Svensson Trio, his neighbor from Sweden. It is very minimalistic, laid back. He has been called “the Satie of Jazz”. This is music to savor late at night, with a glass of single malt (I’d recommend a Caol Ila 12).
Critics around the globe mainly loved this album, calling the music “shimmering” (the Village Voice), and quoting the ” liquid, flowing quality of his motion” (AllAboutJazz). You did find some critical voices as well, usually finding this a little bit too laid back, or some even called it boring.
Well, obviously if you want high energy jazz that brings you to the edges of contemporary creativity, look elsewhere. But if you, like me, appreciate the ECM sound, this album is really worth checking out.
Actually, I’m a big fan of the very minimalistic and modern ECM cover art in general, but on this particular album they really nailed it. The blue, unfocused feeling you get from the cover is exactly what the music will do with you. You’ll get lost in space and time (the Caol Ila certainly helping….).
Note that the recording quality of this album is truly outstanding, so if you have a good hi-fi, you’ll enjoy it twice as much.
My rating: 4 stars