Tord Gustavsen, Hans Koller and George Russell… what’s the link? By Tony Dudley-Evans

Norwegian pianist/composer Tord Gustavsen returns to Birmingham on Friday 11 March at CBSO Centre to present his new project with Afghan/German singer Simin Tander as well as his longstanding partner on drums, Jarle Vestepad. Tord will be performing music off his latest album What Was Said, which sees a mix of Norwegian hymns in the Afghan language, Pashto and English versions of Persian poetry by Rumi. The music off this beautiful album should be stunning in the great acoustics of the CBSO Centre. In the past he has always enjoyed working with singers; I first heard him play some years ago with Silje Nergaard, a singer who veered between jazz and pop, and then two years ago I heard him in Oslo with Norwegian pop singer Synne Sanden.

Tord is a regular and welcome visitor to Birmingham and has special relationship with Jazzlines. He first came to the mac with his piano/bass/drums trio and returned with a similar trio but playing the larger CBSO Centre the second time. The third visit saw the trio extended to a quartet with the wonderful Norwegian saxophonist Tore Brunborg joining Mats Eilertsen on bass and Jarle Vestepad on drums. The trio had always had a quiet intensity in its playing that some have compared with a gentle but committed gospel feel, whilst in the quartet Tore enhanced that sound and feel with his atmospheric sound on tenor sax. That same feel is present in the new group with Vespetad’s exquisite drumming making a major contribution to the sound.

Following this performance, Jazzlines and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) will be presenting Twelve Re-Interpretations for George Russell by Hans Koller Quartet with BCMG at CBSO Centre on Saturday 12 March. George Russell was a major jazz composer, working initially with the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and then with his own small and large ensembles. Russell was the equal of composers such as Thelonious Monk or Charles Mingus, but perhaps did not achieve the recognition he deserved. Nonetheless his music and his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organisation were key contributions, which provide fascinating inspiration for Hans’s new music.

The interesting link between the two above concerts is that George Russell relocated to Norway in 1964 and spent five years in the country. A very interesting description of the Norwegian jazz scene written by Luca Vitali (Vitali, 2015) shows that Russell had a major influence on the development of a distinctive sound and style for Norwegian jazz and many of the developments from the 1970s in Norwegians players and composers, such as Jan Garbarek, Arild Andersen, Terje Rypdal and Jon Christensen, can be traced back to their involvement in bands and workshops run by George Russell. This first post-Russell generation had a strong influence on younger players such as Nils Petter Molvaer, Thomas Stronen and Tord Gustavsen.

These two concerts provide an excellent opportunity to compare two aspects of the jazz scene in two key countries for jazz in Europe, Britain and Norway and also to hear the latest projects of two important composers, Tord Gustavsen and Hans Koller. They are also part of the Frontiers Festival run in various venues in Birmingham in mid-March

Vitali, Luca (2015) The Sound of the North: Norway and the European Jazz Scene Rome, Auditorium 01