Tord Gustavsen, St George’s March 22

A concert of two halves, this. Before the interval, the Norwegian quartet ploughed their liturgical furrow very softly – all sub-Jarrett piano tones, understated sax burnishing the notes with something of Garbarek’s solemn gravity, and ever so tasteful drums and bass. The tunes were quite nice. But for me the effect began to pall after the first 20 minutes or so. This was identifiable ECM-blend jazz, decaffeinated. A bit too genteel to work over the long haul.

Probably just me, as I confess the half-dozen people I spoke to in the interval, including the the usual other pair of ears, all said it was perfectly gorgeous Most other reviewers of this tour – and CD – seem to agree, though Jak Massarik conveys the slightly too reverential atmosphere well in a way that suggests he had reservations, too.

Happily, the longer second set seemed much more enjoyable, to me. The prevailing mood was still meditative, but there was more precussive snap at certain moments, and a couple of numbers – one gospelly, one with an Eastern-European folk tinge – which were, by this group’s standards, positibely exuberant. There was also, I fancy, some more interesting improvisation, although the leader’s keyboard playing does tend to revert to a few characteristic middle-range chordal explorations with the right hand while the left does… not a lot actually. The set closer returned to the mood of the first, but after these excursions into actual dynamics its pared down beauty was, finally, starkly affecting, an elegiac reflection on all that had gone before which brought things to a memorable finish. At least, it would have done, had convention not dictated a somewhat unnecessary encore.

We would have lingered for more of Emily Wright, in excellent vocal form in the bar afterwards, but my companion declared firmly, “my ears are full”. And we are going back for Andy Sheppard and Trio Libero tonight.

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