The beauty of pianist Tord Gustavsen‘s new album “What Was Said” lies in the vocals of German-Afghan artist Simin Tander who is singing Norwegian traditionals and church hymns not only in English, but also in Pashto, the national Afghan language. Listen to “I See You”, a beautifully executed Norwegian traditional with intensely melodic backing by the leader who is using electronics and a synth bass as well as piano. Aiding and abetting is Jarle Vespestad on drums.
The extremely restrained piano work is sublime on “Imagine The Fog Disappearing”, a hymn written by Danish author Wilhelm Andreas Wexels and also sung in Pashto. Some pieces tend to be very sinister and melancholic, but it’s the poetry of that particular language that is somewhat caressing and soothing and of course, exotic. Elias Blix, another writer of church songs who died in 1902, is responsible for “Journey Of Life”, a track which slowly starts with a marching drum before Simin comes in with her intimate interpretation. The synths are used in aesthetically distinct ways and never disturb the ambiance.
Tord wrote the music to “I Refuse”, a piece by American writer Kenneth Rexroth, sung in English and easily fitting in as another beautiful poem set to a subtle and unconventional piece of art. Jalal al-Din Rumi, who lived from 1207 to 1273, is a Persian poet and Sufi mystic figure who is one of the most popular poets in the US. He transcends ethnicities and nationalities and is a truly contemporary and in-your-face artist whose poetry is more accurate and fitting as ever, especially in the current climate. Rumi’s epitaph goes like this: “When we are dead/Seek not our tomb in the earth/But find it in the hearts of men”. Three of his worls have found the way onto this album.
There are slowly meandering instrumental tracks here as well, like “The Way You Play My Heart” or “Rull”, both adding to the persuasive intensity of this highly enjoyable set. Simin is using her voice more as a hint on “Sweet Melting” and the Pashto language is really a revelation here. It is full of exuberance, but in a subdued and ethereal way.
The group is on an extended German tour in February and plays the UK in March. They also play St. Peter’s Church in New York June 18th. Tour dates following here asap.