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Nowhere was this more evident than in the extended version of Turning Point. After laying down the melody, he proceeded to deconstruct it, pulling it into new shapes, twisting, fragmenting, yet never losing touch with his starting point. And even at its most splintered, the music remained intensely lyrical. It put me in mind of Bills Evans' late, live Paris concert where he does a similar thing with Miles Davis's Nardis. And, of course, there are echoes of Evans, both as composer and performer, as there are of Keith Jarrett and McCoy Tyner. This is not to suggest derivativeness: Gustavsen has absorbed his influences. He is his own man.

So, when I make the final comparison, it is simply by way of a compliment. For, to my ears, Gustavsen's closest affinity is with one of the finest pianists from the 1950s: Hampton Hawes. There is the same melodic inventiveness, balanced by a dynamic technique; a controlled energy which produces staccato chords in the left hand and exhilarating runs in the right. Both players can linger lovingly over a chordal progression, and simply ditch the melody; both flirt with dissonance; both tinge their playing with the blues, with modality, and with gospel: no coincidence, perhaps, that two of the numbers here were introduced as 'hymns'. In fact, Hawes' own remarks could easily have referred to the delivery of these pieces:

'At slow tempos the beat has to swell. It's like taking a mouthful of good wine, swishing it around in your mouth, savoring it before you let it go down. The swallow is that beat finally dropping.'

Hawes played in the idiom of his time, but with his own distinctive voice; so does Gustavsen. The major difference is that, for now at least, the latter eschews the 'standards', preferring to stick with his own compositions. There is ample material there but, I confess, I'd love to hear what he'd do with a tune like Body and Soul or My Romance, especially unaccompanied.

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Copyright © 4 May 2004 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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