Record Rack: Tord Gustavsen Quartet and The Frank DiBussolo Group

Of Music from Norway and Allentown, PA

By Brian Arsenault

The Tord Gustavsen Quartet:  Extended Circle (ECM Records)

If God is Dead, his demise hasn’t prevented artists of serious purpose from seeking the spiritual, nay, creating the spiritual. Sacred music is never far from the mind and spirit of Tord Gustafsen whose compositions dominate Extended Circle.

Perhaps our doubting, questioning age had to bring forth artists who seek for what has been lost in the materialism of modernism. More than a century ago, the largely forgotten great American writer Sherwood Anderson bemoaned the loss of a sense of community, overwhelmed by the acquisitiveness of the modern times. Imagine his horror today as we all rush for more stuff that beeps and hums and sometimes catches fire in our pockets.

So here is Gustavsen and his terrific quartet pondering, meditating, respecting the stillness between the notes. That’s typical of ECM recordings but never more so than here. Each note played on its own completely, uncluttered, actually having a beginning and an end.

Still, I’m not sure I could have expected the frenetic, frantic drumming of Jarle Vespestad early in the album on “Eg Veit I Himmerik Ei Borg” (A Castle in Heaven), a reworked traditional Norwegian hymn.

Nor did I see coming, amidst so much meditation, the body swaying melodic tenor saxophone of Tore Brunborg on “Staying There.” This is jazz after all by fine jazz musicians.

But oh so serious. I’m an American and as a result sometimes raucously irreverent and I wonder if anyone ever cracks up or cracks wise during these recording sessions. Laughter now and then, please.

There’s something of the album’s theme in the title “Staying There,” not racing forward as in the modern age but holding still to sense something deeper.

I suppose, though, that the album’s real theme is stated more accurately though less satisfyingly on the following track, “Silent Spaces.” The previously cited silent spaces between fully expressed notes seem to summarize the album, its musical approach, the ECM credo.

Throughout, Mars Eilertsen’s double bass unites with Vespested’s drumming to form the foundation of all.

As noted, this is serious stuff and it’s not always easy for the untrained ear and paced rather slowly for usual American tastes. Yet it holds. It holds.

Near the end of the album “Glow” is in perfect tempo with the snow falling outside my window as I write this review. Norwegians know snow. It is part of their spirit, after all.

 The Frank DiBussolo Group: Songs to Write Home About (lostworldmusic)

So they put this little combo together in Allentown, Pennsylvania, from whence my mother’s Italian side of the family hails. And the guy heading the band is Frank DiBussulo. And they do American songbook tunes from the World War II era (see album cover) which was my parents’ generation, and they expect me to be objective about the album. Nah.

I liked it before I heard it and anyway any time I seem to be objective I’m probably really not. It’s about music I like or at least respect or I wouldn’t be writing about it.

Frank DiBussoloBut boy I really like this album now that I’ve heard it and singer Tiffany Grochowski’s singing is as much of a revelation to me as DiBussolo’s oh so smooth guitar.

Lets talk Grochowski first because this gal should be a star. She’s that good.

She’s so exuberant and playful on the early tunes — “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” — alternately so wide eyed and sultry that I wonder if she’ll manage the erotic subtlety of “Teach Me Tonight.” She does.

She slides just as comfortably into the romantic sense of “Moonglow” and the sauciness of “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me.”

In fact my biggest disappointment of the album is that “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is done as an instrumental. Not that it isn’t good, it’s fine, but I was so looking forward to hearing Tiffany’s take on the tune and lyrics.

Speaking of instrumentals, “East of the Sun (West of the Moon)” really showcases DiBussolo’s guitar work. He’s one of those musicians whose playing just seems to flow naturally like he was born playing. Know what I mean? Sinatra singing. Armstrong playing. It’s what they do.

He’s just as good supporting as leading and he’s clearly a generous spirit to frequently step back to let Tiffany G’s vocals soar. He didn’t put the band together just to feature himself and that’s not so common, is it?

This is jazz for the club, the cabaret, not the concert hall. It’s jazz for dancing and drinking and forgetting your troubles and the War, if just for the night.

The singer out front, the gifted guitarist playing lead. Steven Liu’s upright bass and Bryan Tuk’s drums behind. Guest Gregory Edwards sits in on sax or clarinet on some numbers.

Good stuff.

But at the end it’s just Tiffany’s voice and DiBussolo’s guitar on “My Buddy.” I hadn’t thought about that sentimental old saw in a long time. My Dad liked that tune and he had a tendency to name dogs Buddy.

Old times made new.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

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