Fri Feb. 3, 2017

Ketil Bjørnstad Solo (N)

Ketil Bjørnstad: piano

The twin albums “Shimmering” and “Images” are being released simultaneously, both individually and as a double set. The two albums were recorded by Ketil Bjørnstad alone, on the same C. Bechstein grand piano, but in two different studios and with a two-year interval. In many respects the album is an extension of the project Bjørnstad began with the exceptionally popular and critically acclaimed 3CD release “The Rainbow Sessions” (Emarcy/Universal) from 2006.
Solo piano recordings are a running theme throughout Ketil Bjørnstad’s extensive discography. His first piano album, “Tredje Dag” (Philips, 1975), appeared only two years after his debut album, “Åpning”, which marked his break with classical music in earnest and heralded his growing interest in jazz, improvisation and composition. Since then he has cultivated this format in both a series of popular records and hundreds of concerts all over the world.
Bjørnstad’s solo piano albums often take the form of an improvised recital. He comes to the studio mentally prepared, but without a clear plan, and lets his surroundings, the studio and, not least, the grand piano inspire him and determine the musical course that he will follow in the recording session. The music flows freely, alternating between totally improvised segments and new versions of songs and musical fragments that hold profound meaning for him.
The album “Shimmering” came about as a result of an invitation from Tom Johannessen at the studio Pettersens Kolonial Lydstudio in Hønefoss. Bjørnstad has recorded a good many of his solo albums on various Steinway grand pianos, but Johannessen knew that Bjørnstad was very enthusiastic about the C. Bechstein grand piano they had in Hønefoss. As early as 2009 he had used that piano for a recording of “Vinding’s Music” (ECM, 2012). “It’s always refreshing to play on different grand pianos, with their variety of tone qualities,” says Bjørnstad himself. “This particular C. Bechstein grand piano is powerful and intimate at the same time, and enables the performer to play very dynamically.”
The album consists of a concert performed in the small studio with an audience of 40 people, and according to Bjørnstad both the presence of the audience and the timing of the recording session had an impact on the result. “It was one of the most intense days of the Nordic spring, with the lilac trees in full bloom. But the court case after the terrorist attack in Oslo and the island of Utøya one year earlier was also at its most intense, with its shocking details and constant TV coverage. I had passed by Utøya while driving to the studio, and had been reminded of both the beautiful and the brutal aspects of life,” Bjørnstad wrote in his cover notes. “Mostly because of the people listening in the studio that day, this was a concert that I will never forget.” Two years later Pettersens Kolonial Lydstudio was forced to close down, and the unique grand piano was sold.
Fortunately, it found a new home at Propeller Studio by the Akerselva river in Oslo, and this was where “Images” was recorded in October 2014 together with technician Mike Hartung. The spontaneity and intensely live feeling are just as obvious in this album, although Bjørnstad had not invited a live audience into the studio this time. Much of the album was recorded straight through, with no editing or new takes. But Bjørnstad did allow himself to take some breaks between numbers to listen to and take in the sound of this fantastic grand piano, being played in a new environment. Bjørnstad himself describes the music on “Images” as more intimate. “I wanted to avoid many of the percussive elements that are always a part of my concerts. In that way, all of the remarkable overtones of this instrument became very powerful and prominent.”
In these intimate musical encounters we get close to musician and artist Ketil Bjørnstad. He stretches a large canvas, both dynamically and emotionally, and also gets close to us, the listeners.