Tord Gustavsen, Simin Tander, Jarle Vespestad: What Was Said (2xLP, ECM, February 2016)

I got slightly obsessed with this record, and I’m not quite sure why. I don’t normally get on with jazz, and know little about it; and I buy very little in the way of proper songs, especially by singers who sound trained in any kind of formal classical tradition. But this is amazing! I don’t know whether minimal jazz is a thing, but I think this might be it. (I was reading someone on a jazz forum talking about the sparseness of Gustavsen’s music and describing how the spaces between the notes are as important as the notes itself. Obviously, this is something which I approve of, and think the genre could do with a great deal more of. Most genres could, actually, but jazz especially.)

Anyway, many of the songs — and many of my favourites — are dominated by Tander’s vocals. She is German–Afghan, and the lyrics are a collaboration with the Afghan poet B Hamsaaya: they include Norwegian hymns translated into Pashto, Sufi poetry by the 13th century Persian mystic Rumi translated into English, and one setting of proto-Beat poet Kenneth Rexroth’s “No!” (as “I Refuse”). A common pattern, as on, say, the lovely “Imagine The Fog Disappearing”, is for the song to have two phases: first the vocal accompanied very gently by Gustavsen on piano and Vespestad on percussion (and occasionally a barely noticeable electronic wash); followed by an instrumental response where Gustavsen lets himself go a bit more. The effect is, for the most part, pretty spell-binding, with an emotional depth which is moving without ever seeming soppy or manipulative. Tander’s voice is astonishing, whether she’s singing lyrics which few people could get away with (a favourite of mine, perhaps in small part because it reminds me of Dylan Thomas, despite being one of Rumi’s: “What was said to the rose, to make it open / Was said to me here in my chest”, which she makes magical rather than cheesy, and which gains a kind of spine-tingling immediacy when a few lines later it slips into the the present tense for “that is being said to me now”) or making me feel like I sort of know what she’s saying despite singing in a language I know nothing of (as, say, on “Sweet Melting”). The accompaniment is basically perfect, too. There’s only one off note on the whole album, for me, the instrumental “Rulls”, which I find disconcertingly upbeat in this context (and just a tiny bit Film ’92 theme tune).

So, yeah: slightly obsessed. I’ve been putting off writing this to see whether the effect wore off, but it hasn’t really. I never thought I’d be saying this, but this is my find of the year so far.

I bought this from Boomkat. They call it Jazz / Fusion.

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