Scandinavian jazz musicians tend to operate in a realm where stirring the gray matter is more important than shaking the hips, and this young Norwegian pianist is no exception. But where many of his forebears crafted sonic structures characterized by sleek surfaces and sharp edges, Gustavsen traffics in a more fluid, welcoming form — one both hypnotic and restorative.
At this show, the Stateside debut of his trio, Gustavsen concentrated on pieces from his well-received ECM album “Changing Places” — and concentrate he did, hunkered over his instrument as if to coax an alchemical reaction from its keys. His musings were, by and large, soft and beckoning rather than forcefully insistent; “Melted Matter,” for instance, was positively vaporous, recalling the more abstract work of Paul Bley.
Gustavsen is, however, more of a romantic than the pianists who preceded him on this long-running label. And with the elegant, guitar-like double-bass playing of Harald Johnsen running beneath — or, more accurately, parallel to — his languid lines, he lights frequently on the heartstrings: “Song of Yearning,” the most successful of the outright ballads, proved perfectly illustrative of its title. “Deep as Love,” on the other hand, was a bit too mired in syrup to really connect.
Piquant spicing was used more liberally than sugar, however, in most of the songs the trio aired during this well-paced set. “Where Breathing Starts,” with its understated tango inflections, brought to mind the waning hours of a Rio night, its tone wistful and pleasantly worn rather than hot and bothered.
Fire was in short supply at the perf, but Gustavsen tended to the music’s subtly glowing embers with care, imparting the sort of even warmth designed to keep the listener leaning forward for more.