Tord Gustavsen Trio, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Over three albums, released between 2003 and earlier this year, the trio led by the Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen has developed a distinctive sound that has all the austerity one expects of northern European jazz, yet is wonderfully uplifting.

Much has been made of how jazz on this side of the Atlantic is in many ways more forward-looking than that being produced in the United States. But Gustavsen's group has created its quietly melodic version of what has been called "Nordic Blues" largely by drawing on the past.

Perhaps a more important influence, though, is religious music. Many of Gustavsen's chord progressions have a gospel feel to them, while there is a sacred aspect to the whole approach.

This religious influence has been acknowledged by Gustavsen, who played in church while growing up, and it was apparent at this performance. In an intense whisper, he described "Tears Transforming", the stunning centrepiece of the three themes with which the concert began, as a "wordless hymn" before introducing "Draw Near", from the new CD, Being There, as an "evening prayer".

Like much church-based music, Gustavsen's compositions are deceptively simple. Where other young musicians notably that other piano prince of melancholy, Brad Mehldau demonstrate their cleverness by dismantling well-known tunes, Gustavsen works by building a piece as if laying blocks on top of each other. It is the efforts he and his bandmates go to in order to fill out this framework that draw in the listener.

At the Barbican, this worked to great effect. The group is more dynamic in concert than on record, with drummer Jarle Vespestad and bass player Harald Johnsen contributing well-judged and precise solos. Before a hushed audience, this group produced jazz of the highest order. One can only hope that this trilogy of albums is just the beginning.

Earlier, the brilliant young Italian pianist Stefano Bollani and his trumpet playing mentor Enrico Rava brightened a miserable November evening with playful duets many from their current release The Third Man that demonstrated the former's virtuosity and comic touch.

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