Fusion is a dirty word. And it should be, after years of pabulum-peddling soft pop being marketed as "jazz fusion" simply because there's a reed instrument in the mix. Yet, when the fusion of "ideas" is incorporated into a jazz structure without fundamentally detracting from the substance of the music, the results can be inspiring, rather than insipid. The ECM label -- though occasionally responsible for some of the latter -- is easily credited with pioneering the former. The label's latest discovery, Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen, is no exception. Though the overall atmosphere on "Changing Places" (Gustavsen's debut) fits well within accepted jazz protocols, there are nonjazz elements in play that make it exceptional. Whether it's the awkward forward motion of drummer Jarle Vespestad on a track like "At a Glance," the subtle interaction of psychedelic spaciousness and bluesy touches on "Your Eyes" or the icy expanse of "Song of Yearning" (the theme of which Gustavsen summarizes in a solo coda at the end of the album), it's clear that this trio has a respect for the tradition and a willingness to move it forward. Largely restrained in tone and near-classical in its stateliness, "Changing Places" is nonetheless invigorating.
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