Bjornstad grows jazz
BY JACK MCCRAY
Special to the Post and Courier
Monday, May 30, 2011
Over the past three decades, a wide array of
pianists have graced the stages of Spoleto Festival USA's jazz
series. The list includes masters such as Cyrus Chestnut in
2008, Horace Silver in 1994, Dave Brubeck in 1983 and Mary Lou
Williams in 1980.
In recent years, more unfamiliar names have
appeared on the bill, signaling a shift toward the
ever-expanding definitions of jazz. Like the old schoolmasters
who have performed in Charleston in the spring, virtually all of
the newbies have not disappointed audiences.
Norwegian player Ketil Bjornstad kept that
growing tradition intact Sunday as heperformed in fine fashion
at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke & St Paul, a new addition
this year to the list of SFUSA jazz venues. The beautifully
designed sanctuary was nearly full, about 500 people. It was his
United States debut.
Bjornstad, who has also written
novels, essays and poetry, was extremely literate Sunday. The
source of his art became obvious as he wended his way through a
program of original songs informed by the European classics and
His execution was flawless. He
created moods that were at once delightful and profound. There
was hardly any swing element to his music. Nothing he played
resembled the traditional American jazz body of work but it as
full of improvisational ideas that were fully formed. The
one-hour program had only four songs in which Bjornstad, 59,
poured his heart and soul.
His music is introspective but it
was proactive. The songs were more tone poems than they were
like the typical American song form. You could even compare them
to paintings, just as he did describing the origins of one of
Bjornstad's sound is very close to
the one associated with the prestigious European label ECM, run
by the legendary producer Manfred Eicher, known for his taste,
risk-taking and high production standards. What he played Sunday
could easily be compared to fellow pianists and label mates,
Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett and saxophonist Charles Lloyd, all
veterans of the festival's jazz series over the years.
You were left with the feeling that
he has played these tunes many times, different each time and
better each time. He's a consummate explorer well within the
jazz tradition by bringing fresh treatments to classic
Bjornstad performs again tonight at
5 p.m. and Monday night at 6 p.m. at the cathedral.
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