Hope, the new album from bassist Terje Gewelt, is a work of amazing beauty and power. All but one of the songs here was recorded live during a piano/bass duo tour of Norway that Gewelt undertook with pianist Christian Jacob in the fall of 2002. Gewelt says in his press release that his goal with this CD was to capture the energy and intensity that is characteristic of a live recording while maintaining the sound and recording quality of a studio album. He achieved that and then some. The energy is sustained at a high level throughout and the sound is unbelievably pristine.
One might think that the absence of drums would leave something to be desired - comparing this to the typical piano trio - but that is not at all the case. Gewelt and Jacob create a work of art here that is amazingly full and vibrant. The fact that they are very comfortable playing with each other is clearly evident, as their interaction is intuitive and seamless.
Of the nine tunes featured, six are standards, with two originals by Gewelt and one by Jacob. The album opens with the only track that wasn’t recorded live, the classic "Moon And Sand." Jacob’s playing of the head is particularly fluid and graceful, after which they take turns soloing alone and then in unison. Next is "Autumn Leaves," another standard. Jacob seems to be having a great time with this one, playing some very complex and creative runs. Gewelt’s solo is well-rounded and melodic, making good use of the full range of the bass. "Small Country," one of Gewelt’s originals, finds him playing entirely unaccompanied. It’s a beautiful tune with a folk song-like quality about it. His technical facility is amazing. If you’ve never been a fan of the bass solo, this tune may very well change your mind. This is followed by their arrangement of the traditional gospel song "The Water Is Wide," a tune that has been covered by quite a few jazz musicians. Their approach here is light but with a great sense of spirituality. They make great use of dynamics, building both volume and complexity as the tune progresses.
They change the pace a bit on the next tune, Ray Henderson’s "Bye Bye Blackbird." There is a bounce and playfulness expressed on this tune that you don’t find on the others. I particularly enjoyed Gewelt’s solo. The sixth track is Jacob’s one original, "Lydia’s Crush," and he plays it solo. This is a gorgeous ballad that opens with Jacob playing a barrage of lush, cascading arpeggios. This tune has a forlorn, searching quality that stays with you long after the last note fades. The duo continues with the second Gewelt original, the title track "Hope." Gewelt opens this one with a minute-plus solo before being joined by Jacob. This is another moving, slow-tempo piece that is overflowing with emotion and sentimentality.
Next up is the Ray Noble gem "Cherokee." This is a tune traditionally played at a fiery tempo. They don’t play it quite that fast, but still give it quite a workout in the four minutes and nineteen seconds that they spend on it. The album closes with one of the greatest jazz ballads of all time, "Body And Soul." As you can imagine, this is a song that could have been custom-made for this duo. From the opening notes, made all the more dramatic by the rubato rhythm, you know that something special is going to happen here. I’ve heard many, many versions of this tune, in arrangements running the gamut from solo to full orchestras, but this is one of the most beautiful that I’ve encountered.To quote Gewelt again from his press release, he says, "Unlike many other musicians, I do not have a message or ‘story to tell’ with this CD. You have heard many of these tunes before, but never with these solos. The reason I decided to release this CD, is that I ‘Hope’ the music will inspire the listener in an optimistic way and that it contributes just a tiny bit to make life even more enjoyable." I believe he has, indeed, succeeded.