Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bjornstad and Co: Remembrance

Although their fellow countrymen Terje Rypdal and Jan Garbarek might be better known in America, the trio of Ketil Bjørnstad, Jon Christensen, and Tore Brunborg constitutes something of a Norwegian jazz super-group. It was a real studio summit meeting brought together by ECM’s Manfred Eicher, which yielded the elegant Remembrance, now available on CD from his highly esteemed label.

The eleven movements of Bjørnstad’s Remembrance effectively comprise a suite, supplying a general framework for a very in-the-moment session. With forty years experience playing together, pianist Bjørnstad and drummer Christensen clearly have a strong musical affinity. Tenor saxophonist Brunborg and Christensen also shared a decade-plus together as part of the drummer’s band Masqualero. All three come from a similar classical-ECM-influenced jazz bag, so they easily fit together throughout Remembrance.

Bjørnstad’s cascading introduction to “Remembrance I” again demonstrates why his music is often likened to things aquatic. Indeed, Christensen was part of his so-called Water Trio that recorded albums like Water Stories and The Sea. It is a somewhat stormy passage that ultimately gives way to the contemplative second movement, which brings out quite a dramatic mournfulness from Brunborg’s tenor.

While “III” has a more minimalist vibe, Christensen’s sly brush work gives it a subtle swing. “IV” continues in a similar mood, segueing into a showcase for Brunborg’s deeply expressive tenor on “V.” Christensen’s evocative percussion effectively punctuates the deliberate build of “VI.” The tempo slows markedly on “VII,” probably the most introspective movement of the set.

“VII” again frames the some sensitive but powerful statements from Brunborg, who really distinguishes himself throughout the session. The darkly hued “IX” (sans Brunborg) aptly illustrates Bjørnstad’s facility in the lower register and Christensen’s flair for skitterish accents. Perhaps the highpoint of the session is the absolutely gorgeous melody of “X,” perfectly suited to Brunborg’s impassioned playing, nicely capped by Bjørnstad’s delicate coda. It all comes full circle with the concluding “XI,” which revisits the theme of first movement.

Though titled Remembrance, Bjørnstad’s pseudo suite is not explicitly dedicated to specific person or event. Yet, it is certainly music conducive to reverie of times past. Richly suggestive music, it holds a strange power that deepens with additional listening. It is an excellent release from three of Norway’s finest musicians.

(Photo: Ken Opprann/EVA 2009)