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Jazz at its best -- Norwegian style

The "Art of Jazz" series at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery has been one of the highlights of the Western New York cultural scene for a while now and it just keeps getting more and more interesting.

The series is also drawing a full house to the offerings, something that is surprising given how tough it is to get a decent-sized audience for live jazz concerts in the first place.

The current season, in addition to hosting a couple of solid mainstream jazz acts, has brought in a host of international jazz artists, showcasing how the world has taken an American art form and adapted it to their own way of thinking. On Saturday night, Tord Gustavsen and his trio were the latest adapters on display in the gallery.

Gustavsen has frequently been compared to Bill Evans, the amazing pianist whose tonal colors and pacing are the two main points of comparison. All one needs to do is hear Evans' performance of "Gary's Theme" from the "You Must Believe in Spring" album and Gustavsen's rendition of "Draw Near" from his latest release ("Being There") for the similarities to reveal themselves.

The biggest difference is that Evans' sense of swing is always present, even in the slowest passages. Gustavsen's pulse is more drawn out, almost as if he took the swing component of his music, whipped it into an alternative universe, and then brought it back in a longer, sloooooower, more elastic form.

It isn't quite that simple though; Gustavsen is a Norwegian pianist whose last three trio albums have come through ECM, the European label whose eclectic catalog features jazz and classical projects that err toward a lean-yet-airy sound. You could slap a "new age" label on it but that would be wrong, since there also appears to be both an intellect and a heart present in his recordings and in his live performance which makes that sort of judgment, facile and flawed.

Certainly, anyone seeing him in concert -- with his body bobbing and weaving, twisting and leaning at such precarious angles that it is all the more amazing when his fingers lock in on a chord or spray out single note passages -- can readily ascertain that Gustavsen fully invests himself in what he is playing.

His two sidemen, bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad, played perfectly in sync with Gustavsen, displaying the subtle sense of the space and rhythm needed to complement the leader's playing. Vespestad's mallet work on "Hobson's Choice" was darn near perfect and Johnsen's solo in "Turning Point" was simple in its virtuosity.


The Tord Gustavsen Trio

Saturday night as part of the Art of Jazz Series in Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

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