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Subtle jazz vibes mark the Kennedy Center's 'Nordic Cool 2013' festival

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Entertainment,Music,Marie Gullard

As the Kennedy Center's monthlong "Nordic Cool 2013" festival of theater, dance, literature, visual arts and music reaches the halfway mark, fans of the perceptively delicate lyricism and subtle jazz vibes of Norway's Tord Gustavsen Ensemble are queuing up for their tickets to be a part of the group's musical journey.

On Sunday evening, these four master players present their music with all the salonlike intimacy of a classical chamber orchestra. And that is as it should be, as far as pianist and composer Tord Gustavsen is concerned.

"Our music has the emphasis of melody and stripped-down lyricism that you would find in smooth jazz with vocals," Gustavsen explained. "But it also has the edge and emphasis on radical freedom that any contemporary jazz [music] would have. We juggle and deal with this paradox of lyricism and freedom all of the time. If you approach it from a different angle, you could describe the music as chamber jazz because of the intimacy and emphasis on the smaller details and finer nuances of our interplay."

The four musicians have been touring in the wake of their enormously successful 2012 release, titled "The Well," a quartet version and prolongation of Gustavsen's trio work.

If you go
Tord Gustavsen Ensemble
» Where: Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, 2700 F St. NW
» When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
» Info: $29; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324; kennedy-center.org

While at least 80 percent of their performance Sunday will be from this new release, there will be other pieces from Gustavsen's trio work and a few brand-new compositions, which are, he says, "pointing to a future release for us."

The other members of the quartet include Tore Brunborg on saxophones, Mats Eilertsen on double bass and Jarle Vespestad at the drums.

"They are really the best musicians I know ... and to have them interact with me -- to have them respond and contribute to the development of my compositions night after night -- is a real blessing," Gustavsen continued.

He notes that his compositions, in terms of stylistic inspiration, feature jazz elements with clear traces of Scandinavian folk influence, French Impressionism, and also the blues, urban American jazz and, finally, post-bebop rhythms.

"It's a kind of jazz with a very wide area of inspiration and skill that is unified into this really tight and melodic approach ... a unified musical journey from beginning to end," he said.

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