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RAINBOW SESSIONS

 

 

The new, second Rainbow Studio in Oslo, Norway, is the creation of Jan Erik Kongshaug, a sound-engineer with a remarkable knowledge and reputation known all over the world. He had already worked for the small, but very nice, Arne Bendiksen Studio in Oslo in 1970. He was a distinguished musician himself (guitar & bass), but most of all a very talented engineer, who was able to respond to very different musicians’ and producers’ aesthetic approach. At that time, many new and influential jazz-labels started, but Jan Erik Kongshaug was also working for pop and rock-producers, as he still does today.

 

I was lucky to work in this studio in much of the seventies, along side Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen, among others, as well as with the highly gifted Norwegian producer Svein Erik Børja, who at the time continuously discussed sound and recording methods with many different musicians and producers. I felt a very special creative energy in the studio, and I also loved the small Steinway A. I recorded my first solo piano-album for Philips on that instrument in 1975. I think fondly of the now deceased Svein Erik Børja with deep gratitude. He taught me so much about being intuitive, and also how to think about sound and the different instrument qualities when recording music. It was an exciting atmosphere in Oslo during those years. Young musicians felt the presence of world-famous artists who would show up at the unforgettable Club 7 (even Miles Davis was there). They changed our way of thinking about what improvised music could be.

 

            Later, Jan Erik Kongshaug moved to Talent Studio in the same area of town. I never worked with him there, but was proud when he asked me to work with him when the later renowned Steinway D-model for the first Rainbow Studio in Christies Gate 5 was chosen. In between, I recorded my first volume of Preludes on the fine and interesting C-model that was used during the first Rainbow-years. I was also fortunate to have Jan Erik Kongshaug as my main studio-engineer during the nineties, who was also my live recording-engineer on both Grace and Seafarer's Song, and had the pleasure to mix both albums with him. I enjoyed experiencing his way of approaching the soundscape with his careful way of listening to the music’s inner needs.

 

            When Jan Erik Kongshaug told me that he would be moving Rainbow Studio from Christies Gate to Sandakerveien, an idea occurred to me about how nice it would be to be the last musician recording in the old studio and the first musician recording in the new. I prepared two solo piano-CD's, which later developed into a triple-session. This was due to Jan Erik Kongshaug and my very close friend, the hi-fi-boss and art-collector Erling Neby’s generous offer to buy a new Steinway D for the new studio.

 

            A grand piano has a remarkable life and is full of surprises. I have been playing on a Steinway A-model since the sixties at home. Even today, it is still surprisingly brilliant and dynamic. The old D-model in Rainbow Studio was not at all outdated, but it could sometimes be difficult to differentiate between pianissimo and forte, even if it had fantastic qualities both in the upper and the lower registers.

 

            To choose between eight remarkable D-models at the Steinway Factory in Hamburg is very difficult because every pianist has his or her own personal touch and taste for sound quality. The one that was eventually chosen has a wonderful brilliance and is more open and dynamic than some of the older Steinways. It is possible to communicate in the most transparent pianissimos, and also possible to play a full scale Brahms on it.

 

            There are so many theories about piano sound, and the most surprising is how many classical pianists and producers prefer a rather dull and distant sound for their recordings. Even more tragic is that some star pianists have to take their own instrument on tour all over the world. No instrument on earth suffers from changing places and climate more than a distinguished grand piano. Listening to exhausted instruments suffering from jet-lag is never very pleasant, even when masters are playing on them.

 

            The instruments in the Rainbow Studio don’t suffer from any jet-lag. They reside stress-free in a wonderful studio, and both are taken very good care of by Thron Irby the tuner, who is also the Steinway-agent in Norway.

 

            It may be possible, in these recordings, to hear the difference between the recordings from the old and the new studios, and the old and the new instruments, without necessarily preferring one over another. Music and sound should be enjoyed and removed from comparative thoughts. Every musical moment and every sound has its own value.

 

            I am grateful for having had this opportunity to work in a dream-like setting for a pianist, with Jan Erik Kongshaug behind the mixing-table. These recordings are made with my most deep-felt thanks to him, Erling Neby and Thron Irby, who have participated in setting the standard in different ways and have also created this very special soundscape, directly or indirectly, which I have always felt is the most dynamic and correct for what I as a pianist wish to express.

 

As a piano player, one must remember that the grand-piano is both a string and a percussion-instrument. Much of the romantic grandeur associated with the instrument during its peak, such as from Beethoven’s "Hammerklavier" Sonata through to the two heavy Brahms piano-concertos, to the incredible Busoni-transcriptions of Bach-organ-works, describes a certain historic period that belongs to the past, even if the music speaks to us today owing to the genius of the composers. Many contemporary pianists approach the instrument with much more awareness of the string-sound the grand-piano is able to give. This also creates new possibilities to work inside a much more intimate aesthetic. I have not yet discovered if this development is because many modern jazz-pianists play with a technique lacking the power of classical technique. But since the overtones in this musical setting are much easier to hear, it is also easy to understand that a grand-piano is unique and impossible to copy digitally.

 

When I chose the repertoire for these three sessions, I was thinking of the instrument, the studio-acoustics and my mood on each respective day. The first recording was in June and became the final session in the old studio, when Norway is overwhelmed by light. The second one became the first session in the new studio. It took place in August when one can sense autumn is approaching. The final one happened in December when Oslo is dark and cold, and the snow is falling. But I didn't want to be too sentimental about the seasons. The Christmas-carol, "In the bleak midwinter", was recorded in the first session, when it was mid-summer. I wanted to play compositions I felt close to on the day of the recording. Both very old and also quite new material was chosen.

 

The three sessions were recorded live, without any corrections or editing.

 

 

Oslo, September 2006

 

Ketil Bjørnstad

              

 

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