Bach to your roots

Norwegian jazz pianist Tord Gustavsen talks about his latest project.

After a run of projects that’s seen Tord Gustavsen explore various musical avenues, the recently released The Other Side sees the jazz pianist and composer return to the trio format that made his name.

“It felt like the right time to go in to the studio as a trio without feeling the pressure of following up something,” he says. “It developed very naturally, unforced, this trio interplay.”

After three albums with his original trio, including The Ground (which remarkably hit number one on the Norwegian pop charts), Tord moved onto an Ensemble, Quartet and then a collaboration with Afghan-German vocalist Simin Tander. Now with his regular drummer Jarle Vespestad and new bass player Sigurd Hole, a resurrected version of the Trio sees the band leader call on the subtle electronics that infused his project with Simin for a finely drawn and spiritual collection.

Nestled within The Other Side are three JS Bach pieces – the roots for which stretch back to Tord’s childhood.

“Playing hymns and chorales has always been a vital part of me, both as a musician and as a spiritual person – growing up playing in church, in choirs,” explains Tord. “Playing improvisations over chorales is something I have done all my life. I haven’t included it much in the albums under my name until recently, but that’s still something that has always been very natural for me.”

But tackling works by one of the greatest composers ever was not something Tord took lightly.

“It’s such a huge thing, it’s almost taboo to play Bach because his music was so complete, so perfect in itself, so any intention of improving Bach in any way would be nonsense!”

Yet a spur of the moment improvisation during rehearsals led Tord to find a way whereby he was able to treat the works with the reverence they deserve, yet also still find something new to say.

“So we had to arrive at a point where we didn’t try too hard, where we played them with huge respect, but respect in the form of gratitude and freedom, not respect in the sense of anxiousness or trying too hard,” he says, adding that the lyrical element has proved to be one key.

“What’s funny for me, about those chorales, is that the text, the lyrics to them are really important to me. Although we play instrumental versions, I often sing the texts silently when playing them. In a way it’s an interpretation of the theological content, although in an instrumental setting.”

The Tord Gustavsen Trio play Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL on Wednesday 31 October 2018. Tickets