(English follows Japanese)
★ My Favorite Album (380)
By Takaaki Kondo, Toyko Jazz Review
Ketil Bjørnstad - piano
David Darling - cello
"I" (William Byrd) - 6:58
"II" - 7:28
"III" (Byrd) - 4:40
"IV" - 8:49
"V" - 6:39
"VI" - 9:19
"VII" - 5:15
"VIII" - 2:39
"IX" - 5:47
"X" - 4:31
"XI" - 7:26
"XII" (Orlando Gibbons) - 3:39
All compositions by Ketil Bjørnstad and David Darling except as indicated
Recorded at Rainbow Studio in Oslo, Norway in June 1996
❑ Ketil Bjørnstad - Website
❑ Buy CD
An untypically calm duo sequence, emerging in the course of the recording of Ketil Bjørnstad's The Sea - a quartet album on the whole more given to tempestuous intensities - provided the impetus for The River. As the title implies, its flow is steadier than that of its predecessor, its scale more intimate. Ideas ferried between cello and piano in the 1994 session had suggested echoes in older music and Bjørnstad set about following these echoes to their source: "I spent the winter of 1994/5 researching and playing music of the late renaissance, paying particular attention to the clarity of William Byrd's and Orlando Gibbons's melodic invention, trying to 'translate' some of this into a modern idiom, trying to find a contemporary language for further dialogues." In the studio, however, renaissance music became simply a point of entry into the improvisational process. As Bjørnstad puts it, "Byrd's bright 'Qui Passé' posited a direction. Then the music began to flow." The Norwegian pianist had first met American cellist Darling during the Oslo sessions for the latter's solo album Dark Wood, four years ago. "I knew some of his music, including earlier things like [1981's] Cycles, but Dark Wood was a revelation." Not only for Bjørnstad. The recording prompted America's Jazziz magazine to declare that "No one has improvised on the cello with greater imagination and attention to texture, colour and tonality than David Darling", pointing to "the serious emotions behind the rich, enthralling playing." Inside The Sea quartet (see ECM 1545), Bjørnstad and Darling developed a close musical rapport, attributed by the pianist to common 'roots' in classical and 20th century music. "I think what is happening at ECM now represents a new era in improvising, developing out of a more free and non-puristic way of thinking, linked to the basis, if we can call it that, of the 'classical' approach." As a musician who was schooled as a soloist in classical and modern music (he made his concert début in 1969, with the Oslo Philharmonic, playing Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3) Bjørnstad has never felt he could claim the jazz tradition as his own, despite a lifelong respect for the genre, and even though most of his associates in Norway have come, over the years, from a jazz background. Darling's story is similar in some ways.
The cellist first began to attract press attention in the early 1970s while with the Paul Winter Consort, whose line-up also included the future members of the band Oregon. Prior to this, though, he had studied cello with Janos Starker, one of the great virtuosos of the instrument, at Indiana University.However far he may have travelled from early aspirations as a classical player, that background has been of critical importance. This is easily heard on his trilogy of solo ECM recordings - Journal October, Cello and Dark Wood - and, now, on The River.
"David has a historic knowledge of music," Ketil Bjørnstad emphasizes, "and when we play together we make can make direct or indirect references to different periods, to establish different colours. It's an extremely fascinating way to communicate, musically, another means of improvising."
The process has proven its communicative persuasiveness in concert, too. Bjørnstad and Darling recently returned from the Far East, where they became the first ECM "band" to play (to packed houses) in Taiwan, and they follow up this experience with an extensive concert tour through Norway. Other concert possibilities, both with the duo and with The Sea quartet (completed by Terje Rypdal and Jon Christensen) are currently under discussion.
Meanwhile, the atmospheric attributes of Bjørnstad's and Darling's music continue to find resonances with new listeners through other channels. Following the lead of Jean-Luc Godard (Nouvelle Vague) and Wim Wenders (Until The End Of The World), other directors have been drawn to David Darling's cello improvisations, amongst them Michael Mann (Heat). Currently the music of both Darling and Bjørnstad can be heard in Godard's new film Forever Mozart.
If film is becoming one route by which to approach Ketil Bjørnstad, literature has long been another. In his homeland, Bjørnstad is well-known as a writer - the author of many novels, collections of poetry, books of essays. This reputation is now extending to other territories. Bjørnstad's fictionalized biography of painter Edward Münch was translated into German in 1995 and published by the Insel Verlag to positive press notices. Further translations of his writings await publication in 1997.
JazzTimes (10/97, p.106) - "...the duo's improvisations are inextricably in the ECM tradition that combines neo-classicism and neo-romantic sensibilities..."
Jazziz (8/97, p.71) - "...THE RIVER...[is] carefully refined music with improvisational...expression....Bjornstad and Darling create a restrained and delicate sound, borrowing motifs from Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical eras..."
Ketil Bjørnstad (born 25 April 1952 in Oslo, Norway) is a Norwegian pianist, composer and author. Initially trained as a classical pianist, Bjørnstad discovered jazz at an early age and has embraced the emergence of "European
He is an artist on the ECM record label, but has also published some 20 books (predominantly novels) and a number of poetry and essay collections. He has collaborated with other ECM artists, including cellist David Darling, drummer Jon Christensen, and guitarist Terje Rypdal.
Ketil Bjørnstad was trained as a classical pianist and studied with Amalie Christie and Robert Riefling, and also in London and Paris. He showed great talent at a young age, and won the title of "Youth Piano Master" in 1966 and 1968. When he was 16, he made his debut as a concert pianist with Béla Bartók's third piano concerto. Bjørnstad subsequently turned towards jazz and rock, in close cooperation with the guitarist Terje Rypdal, bassist Arild Andersen, drummer Jon Christensen and the American cellist David Darling. He has recorded more than 50 albums, for labels which include Universal, Kirkelig Kulturverksted and ECM. He is particularly famous for the work Leve Patagonia (1978), which features Cornelis Vreeswijk and Lill Lindfors. His most famous song is "Sommernatt ved fjorden", sung by Ellen Westberg Andersen. Bjørnstad has released discs with a range of artists including Anneli Drecker, Kristin Asbjørnsen, Kari Bremnes, Lill Lindfors, Randi Stene, no:Lynni Treekrem, Frøydis Armand, the Stavangerensemblet, Anders Wyller, Per Vollestad and Ole Paus. He is internationally known for his Universal and ECM recordings, including The Sea, duo recordings with David Darling and Terje Rypdal, Grace, with Anneli Drecker, Bendik Hofseth and Trilok Gurtu,Floating with bassist Palle Danielsson and percussionist Marilyn Mazur, which went to the top of the jazz charts in Germany, solo triple album Rainbow Sessions and The Light, with Randi Stene and Lars Anders Land, which led Gramophone magazine to compare Bjørnstad's songs to those of Leonard Cohen. His most recent ECM album, Remembrance (2010), adds to his catalogue of his serene, meditative work. Bjørnstad has worked in recent years with the Swedish cellist Svante Henryson. In 2000 he wrote the millennium oratorio Himmel Rand (The edge of the sky), based on texts of the poet Stein Mehren. He wrote commissions for the Molde International Jazz Festival in 2007 and for the Bjørnson Festival in 2008. He also wrote "Coast Lines" for the Canal Street Festival in Arendal in 2007 and "Hvalenes Song" for Vestfold International Festival in 2009. His music has often been used by film directors, including Ken Loach and Jean-Luc Godard. As a pianist he has toured all over the world, and visited jazz festivals including those in Montreal, Shanghai, Taipei, Rome, Nancy, Frankfurt, Leipzig, London, Molde and Kongsberg.
Bjørnstad first appeared as an author in 1972 with the poetry collection Alone. He has published about 30 books in all, including poems, novels and biography. Among his earliest novels are Pavane and Bingo – a virtue of Essentials. His novel Oda!, which is based on the life of Oda Krohg is regarded as a reference work on the bohemian scene in Kristiania (Oslo before 1924), and sits alongside his biography of Hans Jæger. A translation of his biographical work The story of Edvard Munch was published in English to coincide with a Munch retrospective exhibition. Among his other literary works are the critically acclaimed Villa Europa and the Victor-Alveberg trilogy, which consists of the novels Drift, Dream of the Sea and Road to Dhaka . Bjørnstad won the Riksmål prize in 1998 with Spiritual. The same year he wrote a satirical book about football, The journey to Gaul with Ole Paus. Mention must also be made of the millennium trilogy which comprises Fall, Ludvig Hassel's Tusenårsskiftet (Ludwig Hassel's Millennium) and Tesman.
Bjørnstad wrote the psychological thrillers The Custom Themes and Twilight. The events of the latter take place in the archipelago of Tvedestrand, where Bjørnstad lived in the 1970s and 80s. More recently, Bjørnstad wrote an award-winning trilogy about the young pianist Aksel Vinding. It consists of the novelsThe music,The River and Damen i Dalen (The Lady in the Valley).
Bjørnstad's literary breakthrough in Germany came in 2006 with Vindings Spiel (To the music) published by Suhrkamp / Insel. The influential critic Elke Heidenreich described the novel as "a perfect book" in her Lesen! program for ZDF, and it went straight into the bestseller list of Der Spiegel. The book was also Bjørnstad's literary breakthrough in France, and was awarded the Prix des lecteurs for 2008. To Music was published in English in 2009.