Tord Gustavsen returns to Mindekirken; ‘The Agitators’ opening at Park Square

Tord Gustavsen Trio
Courtesy of the the Edvard Grieg Society of Minnesota
The Tord Gustavsen Trio’s music tends toward the minimalist, spacious and spare, with shifting rhythms and notes that take their time.

Jazz may be uniquely American, but you can flavor it, color it and marry it with anything from anywhere. For Norwegian pianist and composer Tord Gustavsen, who grew up in a rural village and started playing piano when he was 4 years old, it’s natural to bring in the Scandinavian folk songs and European Protestant hymns he heard as a child while also drawing from jazz, African-American gospel and spirituals, Afro-Caribbean and Western classical musical. It all travels through his ears and head and heart and out through his fingers as something new.

The last time Gustavsen came through Minneapolis, in June 2016, he was touring with his album “What Was Said” in a trio with drummer Jarle Vespestad and Afghan-German vocalist Simin Tander. The songs were original tunes he’d written for poems by the 13th-century Sufi mystic Rumi, interspersed with arrangements of Lutheran hymns from his childhood. Tander sang in Pashto, an official language of Afghanistan.

The music was exquisite. The night was hot. The concert was in Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church just off E. Franklin Avenue, a sweet space without AC. The portable fans had to be turned off so their hum wouldn’t mess with the sound. We fanned ourselves as discreetly as we could.

When Gustavsen returns to Mindekirken next Tuesday (Oct. 2), the weather should be perfect.

Gustavsen made his name in the 2000s with a trilogy of piano trio recordings for the renowned German label ECM, all with bassist Harald Johnsen and drummer Vespestad. “Changing Places” (2003) was ECM’s most successful debut in a decade. “The Ground” (2005) reached No. 1 in Norway. “Being There” (2007) earned raves including Album of the Year from the U.K. magazine Jazz Review.

That would be his last piano trio album until, well, now. Released Aug. 31 on ECM, “The Other Side” finds Gustavsen in the lead on the keys, with longtime drummer Vespestad and new bassist Sigurd Hole. Why the 11-year gap? It’s explained in part by the death of original bassist Johnsen after a long illness. In an interview earlier this week, Gustavson told New Sounds host John Schaefer that Johnson “passed away sadly, tragically, much too early. It didn’t feel right to make a trio with a different bass player at that time.”

It certainly feels (and sounds) right today. “The Other Side,” which we’ve played nonstop for the past few days, is sublime. Gustavsen’s music tends toward the minimalist, spacious and spare, with shifting rhythms and notes that take their time. In his words, “The less we play, the more we say.” He might add, though he probably wouldn’t, “The more you listen, the more you’ll hear.”

It’s chamber jazz, and church jazz, and sitting alone on a lakeshore jazz. There are a lot of piano trios out there, and it’s no small thing to stand out from the crowd by being quieter, more reflective and less showy. Gustavsen has done that from the start.

The 12 tracks on “The Other Side” include several originals; Scandinavian hymns in new arrangements by Gustavsen; a tune by 19th-century Danish composer, organist and folklorist Ludvig Mathias Lindeman; and Gustavsen’s versions of three Bach chorales. Touched with delicate electronics, the music is profound, intimate, elevating and grooving – the latter most notably in Bach’s “Schlafes Bruder” (The Brother of Sleep), a song about death and what comes after. You can almost dance to it.

Let’s hope the trio plays the whole album at Mindekirken. And if they want to pull in pieces from the earlier trilogy, that would be fine, too. This will be the final stop on their U.S. tour, and in our experience, the last concerts are often the best and most expansive. Presented by the Edvard Grieg Society of Minnesota as the first event of its 2018-19 season, the music will be followed by a meet-and-greet reception at Norway House, just across the parking lot. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2. FMI and tickets ($25 advance or at the door).

The picks

Starts today (Friday, Sept. 28) along the North Shore: Art Along the Lake Fall Studio Tour. Heading north for a cabin weekend or just because? Need an excuse besides the crisp fall air and brilliant colors? (This is supposed to be a really good year for those.) Art Along the Lake, formerly the Crossing Borders Studio Tour, is a chance to meet with artists in their home studios and guest artists at local galleries. This year’s featured artists are Dan and Lee Ross, whose clay and stone sculptures and monoprints are influenced by their travels and their daily lives on the shore of Lake Superior. More than 50 artists will participate in the tour. Daily through Oct. 7. Go here for a printable brochure with maps and artists’ names.

Opens today at the Howard Conn Performing Arts Center in Plymouth Congregational Church: “A Woman Called Truth.” Youth Performance Company presents the story of Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist and women’s rights advocate who was born a slave and grew up to be a great leader and voice for the voiceless. Sandra Fenichel Asher’s play has been cast with young people from all over the Twin Cities metro area. Many learned Truth’s story as they prepared for opening night. Times vary. FMI and tickets ($7-15). Ends Sunday, Oct. 14.

Emily Gunyou Halaas and Mikell Sapp in a scene from "The Agitators."
Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma
Emily Gunyou Halaas and Mikell Sapp in a scene from "The Agitators."
Opens tonight at the Park Square Theatre: “The Agitators.” Emily Gunyou Halaas is Susan B. Anthony, Mikell Sapp is Frederick Douglass in Max Smart’s new play about the tempestuous friendship between the women’s rights advocate and the civil rights activist. The two had respect and affection for each other, but they didn’t always agree. It’s a history play that relates to today: think the Women’s March on Washington and Black Lives Matter, and the intersectionality of feminism and civil rights. Signe V. Harriday will direct the regional premiere. Smart is a Playwrights’ Center core writer. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25-60). Closes Oct. 28.

Tonight through Sunday at the Southern: Vie Boheme: “Centerplay.” If you haven’t seen Kendra “Vie Boheme” Dennard dance – with TU Dance, Camille A. Brown, the Karen L. Charles Threads Dance Project, in the Choreographers’ Evening at the Walker, solo at the Southern or in the Guthrie’s “West Side Story” – you should. Ditto if you haven’t heard her sing or experienced her spoken word. She’s strong, athletic, graceful, articulate and fearless, even in the sky-high heels she often wears. And she has a lot to say. Performed to an original score co-written with Eric Mayson, “Centerplay: An Immersive Dance Theater Experience” weaves music, movement, and words in an evening of exploration with a potential for revelation. The performance takes place in the round, with audience members seated among the performers. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($24-$12). Sunday is pay-what-you-can. Free to ARTshare members. Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Sunday at Plymouth Congregational Church: Philip Brunelle’s 50th Year: Organ Recital and Hymn Sing. One of the world’s premier choral music organizations, the Minneapolis-based VocalEssence is celebrating its 50th anniversary season. Philip Brunelle, its founder and artistic director, is celebrating his 50th year as organist and choirmaster of Plymouth Congregational Church. Brunelle is a genuine treasure in our midst, known around the world, much lauded and awarded, a champion of new music (VocalEssence has commissioned hundreds of new works and performed hundreds of world premieres), and a tireless advocate of singing. He’s so passionate about the power and glory and all-around goodness of singing that if you stumble into his orbit, you’ll get sucked right in. This Sunday launches a series of events marking his half-century of service. Brunelle will play the organ and lead a hymn sing. 4 p.m. Free and open to the public; donations to the 50th Anniversary Fund will be gratefully accepted.

Hot ticket

A global superstar, three-time Grammy winner and reigning “Queen of African music,” Benin-born Angélique Kidjo has done something wild and wonderful: created her own radical reimagining of the iconic Talking Heads album “Remain in Light.” (Which was originally inspired by the sounds of West Africa.) She’ll be at the Cedar on Feb. 19, 2019, which seems a long way off, but we wouldn’t sleep on this. Here’s a video of Kidjo performing “Once in a Lifetime” on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in May. Tickets go on sale today (Friday, Sept. 28) at noon. $45 advance, $50 day of show. All ages standing show. FMI.

Angelique Kidjo will perform at the Cedar on Feb. 19.
Photo by Sofia and Mauro
Angelique Kidjo will perform at the Cedar on Feb. 19.

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