As a reviewer you get the wonderful opportunity to listen to so many different types of music that you might not otherwise normally go to, and sometimes it is a good experience, sometimes not so good, but very rarely you hear music that is so special that it defies all categorisation and sits above so much of what is out there.  Tord Gustavsen with his new project Hymns & Visions is one of those special moments for me.

Norwegian jazz pioneer Tord (piano, electronics)  has with his long time musical collaborator Jarle Vespestad (drums), Simin Tander (vocals) and Daniel Wold (sound design) created something very unique and exploration into sound that pulls together completely different cultures proving that music and sound are common to all cultures.

Tord Gustavsen for this project has gone back to his very personal sound roots as a child, that of ancient Norwegian Christian hymns but done something very special with them and taken a path that is to me truly inspired.

Together with Afghan poet B Hamsaaya, these ancient Norwegian hymns have been translated into Pashto, the language of Afghan-German vocalist Simin Tander’s late father, and the combination of the two cultural sounds is at times like something in a spiritual dream like world.  I do not understand a word of Pashto, and I suppose that few listening to the music on this tour do, and perhaps that is part of the experience.  Yes, we lose the translation of the words into our own language, but that leaves us with the pure sounds of Simin Tander’s voice, and that is a most beautiful of musical instruments in itself as she plays with tones and rhythms along the way.

We do get some English translations here, but they are not of the hymns but poems by Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207 to 73) – “Your Grief” and “What Was Said To the Rose”.  Beautiful words set to beautiful music with that haunting voice of Simin Tander singing them.

We also get work  by U.S. proto beat poet Kenneth Rexforth (1905 to 82) “I refuse”.

Tord also explores re-working traditional Norwegian folk songs in “Castle in Heaven” and evokes the landscape itself in titles such as “Imagine the Fog Disappearing”

Jarle Vespestad (drums) gives a very particular sound to this work with the sparseness and fragility of his drumming, some at times sounding like church bells ringing out, and it blends into what is a carefully woven (almost dreamlike) sound-scape.  Tord’s own keyboard work covers many sounds too from jazz pieces to almost classical sounds and even a bit of gospel while at the same time creating unique sounds that harmonise perfectly with Simin’s vocals.

This performance tonight was done as one unbroken set of roughly 90 minutes and there is no other way to perform this work.  It is such a delicately balanced piece that any interruption for a break would just completely break this musical spell and it would be simply lost.  This is music that needs to be heard as a whole, it has a fragility that does not allow any part of it to be taken away from the whole.

The work here also is available on Tord’s new CD (with Simin and Jarle)  “What Was Said”, and it also makes an important statement at this troubled time of how poetry and music from our different cultures can bring people together in a common sound and space.

“Hymns & Visions” I suspect is a bit like “musical marmite” though.  You will either love it or not love it.  I don’t think there is any middle ground here.  Judging by the applause throughout the show, the vast bulk of the audience at The Queens Hall tonight certainly were in the “Love it” category.

Review by Tom King

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