KETIL BJØRNSTAD: Early Piano Music (Hubro Music)


Posted on Jul 22nd 2011 01:38 am

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Ketil Bjørnstad: Early Piano Music

Early Piano Music
Hubro Music 2011
27 Tracks. 113mins11secs

Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

Born in the early 1950s in Oslo, Ketil Bjørnstad is a pianist, composer and author with an extensive body of work spanning over four decades. A classically trained musician, Bjørnstad is also a keen jazz enthusiast, and his work has often found a place somewhere between the two genres. He names influences from Bach, Ravel or Stravinsky to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Norwegian folk music. In the mid-eighties, while he had been working on a series of grand scale projects, he composed twenty four Preludes, which were recorded and released on two albums, published in 1984 and 1985, and a third album, entitled Pianology, in 1987. With these records, Bjørnstad was seeking to return to more stripped down and minimal musical forms. Recorded at a key moment in his career, a few years before he began a long-standing and fruitful collaboration with ECM, these albums were produced by Bjørnstad, and have long been unavailable.

Nineteen of the twenty-four Preludes and the complete Pianology recordings have now been compiled on Early Piano Music, a double CD released on the decidedly excellent Norwegian imprint Hubro. This album gives an insight into a moment in the composer’s career where he was reflecting on the nature of his work and was aiming to get back to the simplicity of solo piano music. The melodies are quite simply stunning here, packaged into short vignettes of graceful touches and nuances as the man brings up certain aspects of the music or gently brushes over others. The music is incredibly fluid and evocative, especially on the Preludes. Using the grand piano in its most crystalline and rich form, Bjørnstad alternates between rich and cinematic themes (Preludes 2, 3, 9, 13 or 21) and more subtle and intricate melodies, and it seems at times as if one motif is echoed further down the line in another, reflecting the unity of these compositions. Far from compensating for the lack of orchestral back-up by overlaying his compositions, Bjørnstad clearly relishes the exposed nature of these pieces and the simplicity of the melodies. There is a freedom here which at times recalls Keith Jarrett at his most liberated.

With three of the eight Pianology pieces substantially longer than any of the Preludes, there is here a shift toward more refined narratives, with recurring themes and contrasted tones. Pianology 1, 2 and 7 give Bjørnstad the opportunity to build on the melancholic nature of his work to develop a series of variations and counterpoints which emphasize the particular relief of the music, each time attacking this from a slightly different angle. In between, shorter interludes, some barely a couple of minutes long, present more succinct themes, but, like with the Preludes, these are perfectly self-contained pieces, which, despite operating on a miniature scale, are equally as achieved and developed. Here again, Bjørnstad keeps to simple and elegant melodies and avoids over-complicated ornamentation to retain the impact of his pieces.

Early Piano Music is a collection of rare beauty. While he has built up a pretty vast body of work, which has culminated with his association with ECM, it is quite a wonder why these recordings have remained unavailable for so long. Their release on Hubro is likely to expose Ketil Bjørnstad to a new generation.


Ketil Bjørnstad | Hubro Music
Amazon UK: CD | DLD US: CD | DLD iTunes: DLD

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