Ketil Bjørnstad: La notte (ECM 2300)

La notte

Ketil Bjørnstad
La notte

Ketil Bjørnstad piano
Andy Sheppard tenor and soprano saxophones
Eivind Aarset guitars, electronics
Anja Lechner violoncello
Arild Andersen double bass
Marilyn Mazur percussion
Recorded live July 21, 2010 at Molde International Jazz Festival
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Mixed March 2012 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo by Jan Erik Kongshaug, Ketil Bjørnstad, and Manfred Eicher
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Ketil Bjørnstad has been a formative presence on a wide variety of ECM releases. Since 1993’s Water Stories, his recognizable pianism and compositional voice have left indelible marks on the label’s catalogue. Age has fortified the intimacy of his melodic formations, whether in his darkly alluring collaborations with cellist David Darling or in projects with singers. La notte, however, represents a return to form, while also taking his craft in unexpected new directions. The result of a Molde International Jazz Festival commission and recorded live in 2010, Bjørnstad’s eight-part suite is a self-styled “soundtrack to an inner film.” It’s also his most sublime creation to date.

KB

Bjørnstad has always been literary in his music, just as he has always been musical in his literature, but cinema has also been an integral influence. Here he pays natural homage to Michelangelo Antonioni, citing the Italian director’s “slow, rhythmic authority” as an early source of musical inspiration. To bring that moving vision to life, he has assembled a powerhouse band of saxophonist Andy Sheppard, guitarist Eivind Aarset, cellist Anja Lechner, bassist Arild Andersen, and percussionist Marilyn Mazur. Together, they create a musique verité of raw forces.

Harnessing such forces requires no small amount of finesse and patience, as demonstrated in the slow progression from Parts I to II. Between the low, arco bass and electronic hum, there is little to grab hold of in the beginning. Even as Lechner’s cello and Bjørnstad’s piano engage in proper dance, Mazur’s tracery is still far away. Only when Sheppard lights up the sky with his tenor does the band’s full gravity take effect. Into that shift from liquid to solid, we might read the robustness of Antonioni’s characters and the fleetingness of their environments, if not the other way around.

Mazur and Sheppard are, in fact, the stars of this performance, although, duly invigorated as they are by Bjørnstad’s finely grained writing and flexible architecture. The saxophonist opts for soprano in Parts III, V, and VII, taking off with un-caged melodies. Having learned from Icarus’s example, his wings are impervious to the sun, which he proves to be a reflection anyway when he leaps into the sky as if it were an upside down pond, sending ripples toward every horizon. Mazur, for her part, accentuates the jazzier shades of this spectrum, acting as a buffer zone for Andersen’s bold cartography. With Bjørnstad, the latter two become a most formidable trio, the central nervous system to Aarset’s coronal guitar and Sheppard’s ecstatic flailing.

Mazur and Sheppard are, in fact, the stars of this performance, although, duly invigorated as they are by Bjørnstad’s finely grained writing and flexible architecture. The saxophonist opts for soprano in Parts III, V, and VII, taking off with un-caged melodies. Having learned from Icarus’s example, his wings are impervious to the sun, which he proves to be a reflection anyway when he leaps into the sky as if it were an upside down pond, sending ripples toward every horizon. Mazur, for her part, accentuates the jazzier shades of this spectrum, acting as a buffer zone for Andersen’s bold cartography. With Bjørnstad, the latter two become a most formidable trio, the central nervous system to Aarset’s coronal guitar and Sheppard’s ecstatic flailing. The presence of these bandmates rubs off on Bjørnstad, whose solo in Part IV magnifies the suite’s red thread with a fullness of expression such as he has rarely elicited before. When Lechner joins him, it feels more than logical. Their relationship is this music’s very foundation, prefiguring Parts VI and VIII as well and making broken images whole again by the glue of remembrance.

This is a must-have for fans of any of anyone involved, but especially of Bjørnstad, who on this stage reaches new heights, and depths, spreading his energies across the toast of inspiration into a brighter tomorrow.

(To hear samples of La notte, click here.)

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