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Ketil Bjorstad / Terje Rypdal: Life in Leipzig

Budd Kopman By

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What a sound—a feast for the ears! Life in Leipzig presents pianist Ketil Bjørnstad and guitarist Terje Rypdal in concert at Leipzig's Opera House, during that city's jazz festival in 2005, with music that will astound those unfamiliar with these players or the manner in which they interact.

This performance is a snapshot of much history at the ECM label. Rypdal was present almost at its inception, playing on fellow Norwegian Jan Garbarek's Afric Pepperbird (ECM, 1971), following it up with his own eponymous recording in 1972. Wildly inventive in his use of electronics, and not limited to the rock label usually attached to him, Rypdal is melody incarnate.

Afric Pepperbird also included drummer/percussionist Jon Christensen, whose extremely sharp drumming has graced more than fifty ECM albums, including guitarist Jacob Young's recent Sideways (ECM, 2008). ECM label head Manfred Eicher brought together Bjørnstad, Rypdal, Christensen and cellist David Darling (with whom Bjørnstad subsequently recorded two duo albums) to form the group The Sea, producing two albums.

Bjørnstad himself is something of Renaissance man and is idolized in Norway for his achievements in almost every cultural field, including music. He writes of his long relationship with Rypdal, which dates back to grade school, and how The Sea quartet deeply affected his attitude toward his classical studies and improvisation. While the recordings were successful, the logistics of touring led to its demise, but also to the beginning of the Bjørnstad/Rypdal duo in 1999.

The pieces played on Life in Leipzig are from The Sea's two albums, Water Stories (ECM, 1993) and two of Rypdal's albums, stitched together to form two large, flowing uninterrupted sections on the album. Starting with crashes at the bottom of the Bøsendorfer's keyboard on "The Sea V," the emphasis is on combining pure sonics and singing melody with the interplay and collision of the differing sounds of the piano and electric guitar with effects.

The music is decidedly romantic in the widest sense, full of large gestures that bring forth intense emotions and vivid images that must, however, have originated from within the players. Bjørnstad writes about how a duo is his favorite performing configuration, regardless of the kind of music, because the communication is direct with no need for logistics that necessarily arise when even one more person is added.

Bjørnstad's playing would have to be labeled classical, primarily because of its rhythmic qualities, while Rypdal, who literally makes his guitar sing through the use of overdrive and other effects, plays very freely. The music's density varies constantly as each player can play alone; drop in volume to accompany the other, play louder in taking the lead or play loudly together during a particularly driving passage.

While all of the music is intensely involving, that last two tracks, "Le Manfred / Foran Peisen" and "The Return of Per Ulv," both by Rypdal, sum up this duo's aesthetic and provide a fitting ending for the ecstatic audience.

Visit Ketil Bjørnstad and Terje Rypdal on the web.

Track Listing: The Sea V; The Pleasure is Mine, I'm Sure; The Sea II; Flotation and Surroundings; Easy Now; Notturno (fragment); Alai's Room; By the Fjord; The Sea IX; Le Manfred/Foran Peisen; The Return of Per Ulv.

Personnel: Terje Rypdal: guitar; Ketil Bjørnstad: piano.

Title: Life in Leipzig | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: ECM Records

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