There is an art to the duo performance – many jazz artists have tried it and accomplished it beautifully in many settings, live and in the studio. That said, there are very few recorded live performances between an electric guitarist and a pianist. Life in Leipzig is one. Recorded in 2005 by Germany's MDR radio as part of its broadcast of the city's jazz festival, this marks the debut live offering by pianist and composer Ketil Bjornstad.
Described by producer Shu-Fang Wang as "an imaginary soundtrack originally composed for a film story set in Taipei," Before the Light gives the music of ECM recording artist Ketil Bjørnstad a cinematic twist. For this album, the pianist has written a handful of romantic melodies and atmospheric moods. The former are presented in different arrangements scattered throughout the album; the latter often include guitar soundscapes and programmed rhythm tracks. Bjørnstad is accompanied by guitarist Eivind Aarset, viola player Nora Taksdal, and keyboardist Kjetil Bjerkestrand. Each one of these short pieces (none over six minutes) makes a melodic statement that could be qualified as being quintessential ECM. .
Ketil Bjørnstad’s passion for the English metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631) is a lifelong affair. His settings of Donne’s verse have led to recordings including The Shadow, Grace and the ECM album The Light. “After working with the texts of John Donne for more than twenty years, I still find new approaches to understanding what he wrote and I find music throughout. It is in the language, in the rhythm, in the silence between the sentences - a passionate quest for meaning and reconciliation. Donne's dramatic life is reflected in the texts and everywhere in them you will find the passion, melodies and sounds”.
Ketil Bjørnstad previously explored the life of Edvard Munch in his acclaimed 1993 novel Historien om Edvard Munch. When invited to compose music for choir in 2011 his thoughts turned once again to Munch and to the writings, still not widely known, of the proto-Expressionist Norwegian painter. With these as his guide, Bjørnstad shaped Soloppgang (“Sunrise”) subtitled “A cantata on texts by Edvard Munch”. In his liner notes, Bjørnstad observes that “the texts written by Munch can be compared to his paintings in their power and intensity.
Subtitled “Songs of Love and Fear”, “The Light” brings together Ketil Bjornstad’s “Four Nordic Songs”, compositions for female voice and accompaniment written over a 30 year period, with a song cycle based on poetry of John Donne (1572-1631). Bjornstad: “The intellectual energy in Donne’s poetry, which was always receptive to the metaphysical, is also nurtured by emotional excitement, and it is this unique combination that has held such powerful appeal to me as a composer.”
Commissioned by the Molde International Jazz Festival and recorded live at the Norwegian festival in 2010, “La notte” is a salute to Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, whom Ketil Bjørnstad counts amongst his formative influences. “At the same time that I discovered what jazz could be, after listening to Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way, I also saw the films by Godard, Bresson and Antonioni. Perhaps it was the slow, rhythmic authority in the films by Michelangelo Antonioni that made me think of music…
To celebrate the 60th birthday (on 25 April) of Norwegian jazz pianist/composer/novelist and poet Ketil Bjornstad, ECM issues a double album as "literary soundtrack", its release also coinciding with the Norwegian publication of the one-volume edition of Bjornstad's highly-acclaimed fictional 'Vinding' trilogy, 'To Music', 'The River' and 'The Lady in the Valley'. After keeping his musical and writing activities entirely separate for decades, Renaissance Man Bjornstad dissolved the boundaries with his 'Vinding' books: "When I had the idea of writing a trilogy about the young piano student Aksel Vinding, I realised that I would have to grant music access to my world of writing. This felt surprisingly liberating, almost like a confession.
Bjornstad’s spacey piano playing (icy cool but full of inner heat) was a natural to be featured on ECM yet surprisingly he would not debut for that label for two more decades. In the meantime he appeared on thirty recordings which ranged from borderline New Age to rock, and he also wrote 18 books (including 14 novels) in Norway. Finally in 1993 Ketil Bjornstad recorded Water Stories (a 12-piece work) for ECM, featuring a quartet that co-stars guitarist Terje Rypdal.