Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen’s music has the mystical potential to uplift listeners to a plane of sharing and grace.
“My music is linked to my whole history of growing up with the devotional moods I experienced as a part of church services and church choirs,” says Gustavsen, who brings his quartet to The City in an SFJAZZ concert Wednesday, just 22 days after the release of “Extended Circle,” his sixth album for ECM.
The musician’s history included Lutheran hymns that originated in Germany, Scandinavian folk tunes, and American spiritual and gospel tunes. All three traditions have held great importance for Gustavsen throughout his life.
“Ever since the first album, I have followed a dual path of stretching out in ever-expanding openness and achieving more and more groundedness,” he explains. “I need to connect deeply with my own roots in childhood musicality, with the hymns, spirituals and lullabies that were sung in our home when I was little. Whenever I reconnect with them, I can be creative, compose and stretch out in abstract music-making in a connected way.”
About 10 years ago, when Gustavsen lost three generations of his family in a tragic accident, his need for solid ground deepened even further.
“I needed to create music that was really nurturing and comforting — music that would open up the soundscape rather than closing it in with some kind of banal theology,” he says. “My yearning for music to serve both as an opening up and as a secure place to be nurtured has since gone through different phases of abstraction and simplicity.
“There is something about music that’s bigger than words,” he says. “It’s a field of worship where you can get in touch with some kind of sacred core or sacred intensity that words cannot really accomplish. If there’s any message, it’s an invitation to stillness, contemplation and openness to the energies you can access in those states. It’s about going for those moments where music can actually mean something, and meet your need for support and beauty. Beauty as some kind of sacred, stripped-down essence rather than beauty as sweetness.”
If that sounds gaga, Gustavsen acknowledges that his music can also be seen as transcending the gap between smooth jazz and art jazz for the elite. That may be a rather superficial point of view, but if it reassures those who need to pigeonhole the indescribable, so be it.
IF YOU GO
Tord Gustavsen Quartet
Where: SFJAZZ Center, 201 Franklin St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Price: $25 to $40