Ketil Bjørnstad: Water Stories (ECM 1503)

Ketil Bjørnstad
Water Stories

Ketil Bjørnstad piano
Terje Rypdal guitar
Bjørn Kjellemyr bass
Jon Christensen drums
Per Hillestad drums
Recorded January 1993 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Ketil Bjørnstad made a splash, if you will, with this, his first of many collaborative projects for ECM. Water Stories puts the Norwegian pianist, composer, and novelist in fine and familiar company, sharing the studio with guitarist Terje Rypdal, drummers Jon Christensen and Per Hillestad, and bassist Bjørn Kjellemyr. Though billed as a jazz album, Water Stories is folk music for the ocean floor. Bjørnstad swishes through his motives with the surrender of a sliver of driftwood on the waves, bowing to his band mates in unobtrusive postures. With the first stirrings of “Glacial Reconstruction,” he thus sets a career-defining formula. Christensen’s unmistakable cymbals brighten in the album’s opener as if from the dark phase of a solar eclipse, stirring where only there was stillness and awe. Christensen again sets the mood in “Levels And Degrees,” now with toms, moving from the sparkle of wave-tips to rumblings from the deep as Bjørnstad and Rypdal paint swaths of marine life in dripping color. From this hails the piano ostinato of “Surface Movements” amid glints and plunks of bass. This bubbling evocation of the album’s namesake is a softly beating heart shrouded in time. “The View I” and “The View II” are astonishingly beautiful, featuring some of Rypdal’s tenderest playing on record. Melting the piano’s subtle undertows, it presages the beauties of The Sea, even as it tears a page from the book of the sky with a solo of pastel fire. Worth the album alone. “Between Memory And Presentiment” indeed rests its head on a liminal pillow, dreaming even as its casts its nets back to a childhood marked by Kjellemyr’s thoughtful solo. Bjørnstad cuts the light in “Ten Thousand Years Later,” in which Rypdal springs an electric flower from the bass’s hollow stem. The brief “Waterfall” and “Riverscape” provide the most programmatic moments of the set, crashing and flowing on their respective paths toward eddying afterlife. “Flotation And Surroundings” is another slice of bleeding pictures, leaving only the synergistic “Approaching The Sea” and the aptly titled “History,” thereby ending another defining label session of the nineties.

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