Tore Brunborg - Understated Norwegian master

Tore Brunborg is so busy these days that he hadn’t realised tonight’s concert with Meadow is the first of two visits to Edinburgh over the next few weeks. Immediately following the current tour with Meadow, the trio that features the Norwegian saxophonist alongside English piano master John Taylor and fellow Norwegian, percussionist Thomas Strønen, Brunborg rejoins Norwegian piano star Tord Gustvasen on tour to support Gustavsen’s latest ECM recording, The Well.

“I just blocked off part of my diary when Tord gave me his dates,” says Brunborg down the line on a rare morning at home in Oslo. “I hadn’t noticed where we’re actually playing but it’s always good to be in Edinburgh because I love playing in Scotland.”

Brunborg’s Scottish connections date back to the late 1980s when he formed the working partnership with pianist Chick Lyall that produced their Tilting Ground album. It was an early example of the saxophonist’s reputation extending beyond Norway. There have been plenty of further examples since.

Brunborg has his own style, warmer and less austere than fellow countryman Jan Garbarek, but it’s still sufficiently “Norwegian” for him to be called when bandleaders and record producers are looking for a certain sound and Garbarek hasn’t been available. He’s even replaced Garbarek in several groups, notably the jazz band that drummer Manu Katché runs when he’s not working with rock stars such as Sting or Peter Gabriel.

Growing up in Voss where the folk music that Garbarek drew on so heavily has historically had a big presence, Brunborg wasn’t particularly drawn to Garbarek’s style.

“I was aware of him, of course, when I began to play saxophone because he was becoming quite famous internationally back then, in the mid 1970s,” says Brunborg. “But Norwegian music wasn’t exotic to me. It was all around me and I’d played it a little on piano and flute as a boy. I was more interested in American music because that came from somewhere else. For a teenager that was exciting.”

His first inspiration and the reason he took up the saxophone was Dexter Gordon, who was then living and working in Scandinavia. Gordon’s Tangerine album made the young Brunborg think, I want to do that, and soon other musicians including Chick Corea, in both his acoustic and electric phases, and flautist Herbie Mann added to his determination to play jazz as a career.

He studied on Trondheim Conservatory’s jazz course, now well known as a hatchery of Norwegian talent, and shortly after graduating was given what turned out to be his first big break. As has become a recurring feature with Brunborg, the band he was invited to join with Norway’s premier bass and drums team, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen, wasn’t intended to last.

“It was formed for a one-off festival date around 1982,” he says. “The idea was to put a young frontline, Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet and myself, together with a more experienced rhythm section and show us young guys in the best light, I suppose.”

With pianist Jon Balke completing a quintet, Masqualero, as they became known, took off. Originally playing in an American style, influenced particularly by Miles Davis’s classic 1960s quintet (their name came from a Wayne Shorter tune written for Davis’s band), over the next decade they developed into the quintessential European jazz group, going on to record for leading European label ECM.

“It was a big thing for me, quite a challenge, really, because the music was never the same two nights running,” says Brunborg. “Tunes could change radically and I had to be able to adapt. But it was a great band and I learned a lot playing with these guys.”

While Brunborg’s frontline partner in Masqualero, Nils Petter Molvaer, went on to become an international leader in the jazz meets club beats style, Brunborg became both a saxophonist for hire and a composer of considerable imagination, working in theatre and symphonic settings as well as in small band and orchestral jazz. He played with American drummer Billy Cobham, led a band featuring keyboardist and nu-jazz trailblazer Bugge Wesseltoft, and followed Jan Garbarek into pianist Ketil Bjornstad’s group as well as Manu Katche’s band. More recently he’s also moved into rock music, with a new album just released by Scent of Soil, the band he co-leads with singer-pianist Kirsti Huke.

When Tord Gustavsen decided to expand upon the piano trio that had brought him major success, certainly in jazz terms, Brunborg’s was the first name on his list. Their first album together, Restored, Returned was notable for Brunborg’s lovely, understated contributions and the new one, The Well, follows in a similar style.

“Playing so softly and so economically is a challenge, a different sort of challenge to Masqualero,” he says. “But I really enjoy Tord’s music. It’s very … is distilled the right word? A lot of ideas go into it and yet it sounds so simple, so beautiful.”

Much the same might be said of Meadow, which began life as a quartet, with bassist Anders Jormin, formed to play one gig to feature John Taylor’s magnificent blend of post-Bill Evans thoughtfulness and English pastoralism. For the recording that followed a - by all accounts – superb concert that merited further documentation, Jormin was unavailable. So they continued as a trio.

“It’s more ambient without a bass,” says Brunborg. “There could easily be a temptation for one or all of us to over-compensate but we’ve found that if we just concentrate on the sounds of our own instruments, it’s a natural dynamic, very attractive, with lots of space to really think about what we’re playing.”


From The Herald, February 9. 2012.


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