Fans of pianist Bill Evans will probably bristle at the comparison here, but that was the first connection that popped into my head with The Ground. Well, go ahead and bristle away because label-mate Keith Jarrett and new ager" Liz Story also came to mind.
The term new age was wrapped in quotes because, even though everybody seems to know what it means, it has become both meaningful and emptyapplied to multiple (and very different) musics. George Winston, new age? Sure. Alex DeGrassi? Yes. Liz Story? Of course. Will Ackerman? No doubt.
The problem is that the effort to force a categorization gives hollow results. Think about something like Keith Jarrett's improvised concerts. Jazz? Blues? Folk Song? New Age?
So while Tord Gustavsen's trio lineup matches the classic jazz piano trio, the music breaks out of the jazz perimeter to encompass bits of other forms including blues, folk song and even the dreaded new age. The sharpest signals picked up by my ears was the muted soulfulness of Bill Evans and the lyricism of Keith Jarrett. Just below that is the playful music of a Liz Story and the folkiness of George Winston.
Gustavsen's band avoids flash, but impresses by relying on sensitivity and quick interplay. Drummer Jarle Vespedstad quietly paints counterrhythms to the leader's piano phrases using some tasty snare and cymbal work. The double-bass of Harald Johnsen, woody in the extreme (and I mean that in the best possible way!), never gets in the way and seems to lay the groundwork for the trio with phrases that foreshadow the piano to follow ("Reach Out And Touch" is a perfect example).
Gustavsen's piano style ranges from subtle romanticism ("Kneeling Down") to more modern shadings (the far too short Interlude" fades with some gorgeous shifting block chords). Like his bandmates, flash is never considered as service to the melody and underlying theme takes top priority.
The Ground might not please listeners looking for an adrenaline wash of sound. It might not even please those expecting traditional jazz trio music. It's that indeterminate ground gluing several genres together. That's were interesting music thrives. It's here.
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