On this third outing for ECM, pianist/composer Tord Gustavsen comes full circle on Being There. When he signed to the label in 2003, issuing his debut, Changing Places, he and his collaborators -- bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad -- dug deeply into close-knit quarters, creating a detailed yet expressionistic examination of the more melancholy human emotions. Being There completes a trilogy of elegantly layered, spacious jazz from the most introspective elements. As a pianist and composer, Gustavsen employs only the barest essentials. There is no fiery technique, no gimmickry that will heighten or dampen the mood, no harmonic drift. This music flows from a source, albeit quietly and enigmatically, looking into territory explored on this side of the Atlantic on earlier albums by Brad Mehldau, albeit with a distinctly Northern European voice. Perfect for ECM, the music is cool, almost uncomfortably so, such that when its lyricism is fully given voice it often takes the listener by surprise, instilling a kind of silence that breeds wonder rather than detachment. Manfred Eicher's signature production allows Gustavsen's piano the sheer deliberation and consideration he requires to put his gorgeous melodies into the air. This rhythm section doesn't follow his lead so much as flow into it, playing as a single voice, allowing these songs form and function. Gustavsen's imagery is skeletal, yet he shines light into the darkened corners of those less than celebratory moodscapes, bringing an intricate balance to both lyric and emotion.
Check the rhythmic interplay on "Blessed Feet," where his chord voicings play the blues contrapuntally against Vespestad's snare. These are blues that sing and swing. Elsewhere, the mood is less transparent on the surface, such as in the whispering "Karmosin," written by Johnsen; it begins as an exercise in percussion, then rhythm, and finally lyricism. Johnsen's bass is a presence that anchors this lithe, shimmering melody and puts the weight of shade against the pianist's fragile light, and the articulation of the percussive voice melds both into a whole. The trio's artfulness is given full expression in the ballad "Around You," where the minor-key scalar head wraps itself around middle-register counterpoint and slides along the snare and cymbal skitter that is poignantly accented by Johnsen. The larger chords weave classical and jazz motions around the rhythm section, dynamically shifting from one bar to the next without ever losing sight of "song." At its heart, Being There is an album of very carefully constructed songs, where improvisation is part of a context -- its part in the entirety of the shape, texture, and dimension is argued delicately yet authoritatively, where close listening is of the essence by each player. The longest of these 13 pieces is only a shade over six minutes, and most fall between four and five minutes. For a recording that unveils itself so gracefully, there is true heft in its presentation. As hinted at on Tord Gustavsen's earlier ECM dates, Being There is the fruit of labor meticulously crafted and dutifully harvested. It is an album of secrets echoed, and questions that are fathomlessly deep; it invites the listener in cleanly, without seduction, and argues for full participation in its revelations.