Extended Circle was my introduction to the Norwegian pianist Tord Gustavsen and his quartet.
As an ECM release, this album lives up to its name. It is spacious, contemplative, and has a slight trace of third-stream classical romanticism. The spacious quality is most present in "Entrance", a free track where the tenor sax quietly plays notes into the dark silence, joined occasionally with high and quiet chords in the piano.
Because I was given this album as a gift, I was disappointed to find a lack of virtuosity. Rarely throughout the album does anybody play a compelling lick that I would want to transcribe and work into my own playing. However, the value in this album comes not from the licks, but from the group as a whole. The quartet does a fantastic job communicating with each other. Everybody in the group contributes perfectly to what each track is expressing. For example, the drummer and bassist are always unified in establishing the light, delicate groove in a way that could be easily messed up by other rhythm sections. Nobody ever gets in the way of any of the others, either.
In spite of its excellent execution, I would personally say this falls within the 3-3.5 star range. It's a good one, but certainly not a masterpiece.