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Ketil Bjornstad: Remembrance

John Kelman By

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In a career spanning four decades that only began reaching a wider international audience with the release of his first album for ECM, Water Stories (1993), Norwegian pianist Ketil Bjørnstad has collaborated with many fellow Scandinavians, including guitarists Terje Rypdal and Eivind Aarset, bassist Arild Andersen, drummer Jon Christensen and live sampler Jan Bang. Surprisingly, he has rarely worked with saxophonists, notable exceptions being Bendik Hofseth on 2001's profoundly moving Grace (Emarcy), and Wolfgang Puschnig on the similarly sublime Devotions (Emarcy, 2007). Remembrance is, however, the first ECM album this neoclassical pianist has recorded to enlist a saxophonist, and he couldn't have made a better choice for this magnificent trio date.

Tore Brunborg is a Norwegian saxophonist whose reputation perhaps exceeds his actual reach, though 2010 might just be the year—with significant work on other ECM titles including drummer Manu Katche's Third Round (2010) and pianist Tord Gustavsen's Restored, Returned (2009)—that this underdog status changes. Lucid Grey (DRAVLE, 2009), Brunborg's most recent recording as a leader, was a trio date as concerned with the tone and detail of every note as the underlying melodism that imbued even its most clearly virtuosic performances. Here, that lyricism is even more vivid; thanks to Bjørnstad's continued meshing of romantic classicism with improvisational freedom and evocative cinematics.

Christensen goes back to the 1970s with Bjørnstad, and his playing has always been temporally elastic, particularly fluid for a musician whose instrument is all about attack, and textural in ways that can only be matched by another drummer associated with the label, Paul Motian. But a shift, in recent years, away from more clearly defined time towards a more implicit approach (the brief liners to his :rarum XX: Selected Recordings (ECM, 2004) saying it all: "Band feeling is more important than bravura; Less is more; How fast can you play slower?; A beat is not always what you think it is") has made him an even more ideal foil for Bjørnstad. The pianist—even in the rubato environs he often paints for himself—is all about pulse and pattern; a drummer adhering more strictly to time would only ruin the group by making it more obvious, more literal. Instead, amidst Bjørnstad's romantic, deeply lyrical and, in this case, paradoxically melancholy and joyous compositions, Christensen's coloristic approach helps evoke Remembrance's strong visual imagery of moving water, craggy vistas and sweeping, panoramic mountainscapes.

Past ECM discs by Bjørnstad, including 2008's duet recording Life in Leipzig, have often relied on Terje Rypdal's soaring and swooping electric tone, and jagged, distorted textures, to provide angular contrast to the pianist's inherent elegance. In trio with Brunborg, an ever-present attention to dramatic arc is, by nature, softer, with far more rounded surfaces than sharp angles. Still, as powerful as required—and as calming as demanded—Remembrance is both instantly recognizable and an album that stands out in Bjørnstad's discography as particularly vivid yet refined, and one of his most natural and organic albums to date.


Track Listing: Remembrance I; Remembrance II; Remembrance III; Remembrance IV; Remembrance V; Remembrance VI; Remembrance VII; Remembrance VIII; Remembrance IX; Remembrance X; Remembrance XI.

Personnel: Ketil Bjørnstad: piano; Tore Brunborg: tenor saxophone; Jon Christensen: drums.

Title: Remembrance | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ECM Records

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