Ketil Bjørnstad made his debut with the Oslo Philharmonic in 1969, 16 years old, playing Bartok nr. 3. Listening to Miles Davis' "In a silent way" made him want to create his own music. Thanks to the very lively milieu around the Oslo music spot "Club 7" in the seventies, he met with poets, painters, jazz-musicians, and was encouraged to find his own style. Onthe first recording in 1973, called Åpning, he played with the drummer Jon Christensen for the first time. Jon was extremely important for Ketil, playing on three more albums, including the two The Sea albums for ECM. The meeting with Manfred Eicher (ECM) was also of big importance. The recording of Water Storiesin 1993 started the collaboration with the guitar player Terje Rypdal and was the first step towards The Sea, that also includes the American cello-player David Darling.
Among Ketil Bjørnstad’s most important musical influences are Bach, Ravel, Prokofiev, Stravinskij, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and folk music. In his time he has collaborated with some of Scandinavia’s most distinguished folk- and rock-singers, like Ole Paus and Cornelis Vreeswijk. In the classical milieu he has collaborated much with the mezzo-soprano Randi Stene and the viola player Lars Anders Tomter. For his efforts he has had the honour of receiving a Norwegian Grammy award.
The duo-projects with David, called The River and Epigraphs were searched inspiration from composers like Orlando Gibbons and William Byrd. The Nest is very much developing aspects from that collaboration, but now includes the human voice and the viola. Working with the singer Anneli Drecker both on Grace and The Nest was a privilege for Ketil. For years he had admired her work in the "Bel Canto"-duo. She is a very special talent, able to go on stage with pop sensation A-Ha and at the same time collaborate with Ketil on these songs with very complex texts.
As an author Ketil is drawn towards poets like John Donne and Hart Crane. He finds much of today’s song texts quite monotonous and very narrow in the view towards life. The text is seen to be as important as the music, and there is a search for a certain identity on every album, reflecting our time and the questions we have to ask as human beings.
The sound-scapes of Eivind Aarset and Kjetil Bjerkestrand have been extremely important, as has his collaboration with the viola-player Nora Taksdal, the solo-viola player in Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Nora is also able to improvise a special gift in the classical milieu. Ketil’s 2002 release on
November records Before The Light brought these people together in a special techno-influenced soundtrack. John Fordham in The Guardian wrote "...kind of chilled north-Euro dance-grooves version of an Ennio Morricone score for SergioLeone".
About his work as an author, it should be mentioned that Ketil’s book The Story of Edvard Munch is published by Arcadia in London. He has several books translated into German published by Insel/Suhrkamp in Frankfurt. They are "Edvard Munch", "Ballade in g-moll", "Erlings Fall" and "Der Tanz des Lebens". This Autumn Insel/Suhrkamp will publish the novel Villa Europa. As an author he participated on the Hay-on-Way-festival in Wales 2002, and received the Norwegian language-prize Riksmålsprisen in 1998. Quite a few of his novels have sold over 50.000 copies. As an author he is influenced by Saul Bellow and Thomas Bernhard.
As a performing artist Ketil has in the last few years given concerts on the jazz-festivals in Frankfurt, Neuwied, Ingolstadt, Hamburg, Stans, Vienna, Voss, Molde, Modena, Ravenna, Nancy, Porto, Montreal and London, a.o. and touring in Asia with Terje Rypdal and US with David Darling.
His latest album Seafarer’s Song (2004) evokes the kind of hypnotic beauty that had critics reaching for superlatives on albums such as Grace or The Sea. Recorded live at the 2003 North Norway Festival in Harstad with group he describes as “the finest musicians I know,” this sixteen piece suite continues Bjornstad’s quest of investigating, as he puts it, “The possibilities of melody at a time when melodic elements are often reduced to fragments.”
Seafarer’s Song brings together the special talents of singer Kristin Asbjørnsen, trumpet-player Nils Petter Molvær, cellist Svante Henryson, guitarist Eivind Aarset, bassist Bjørn Kjellemyr and drummer Per Lindvall. With only a few days of rehearsal, their remarkable performance and the intensity of their live collaboration lingers in the memory long after theCD has been returned to its sleeve.
Performed in Harstad, one of the most beautiful settings on the Norwegian coast, it inspired Bjornstad’s thoughts to turn to the dangerous splendor of the local coastline and its history of shipwrecks. In many ways Seafarer’s Song is an ode to the sea, yet it is something more. “ I wanted to portray the happiness of finding a safe harbour, and the tragedy of those who don’t,” says Bjornstad,.
Using the north and south as political metaphors, “Dreaming of the North,” and “Dying to Get to Europe” explore the emotional trauma of African refugees in search of a better life in the industrialized north. It is an album of floating, hypnotic moods, with Bjornstad’s piano mediating the flow of the music that somehow captures the anxiety and drama of the fleeing refugees on “I’ve Been Hungry All These Years” and “Refugee’s at the Rich Man’s Gates.”
Asbjørnsen’s haunting diction illuminates both libretto and melody as Bjornstad succeeds in translating meaning from the eternal dichotomy of the human condition, the gulf between the haves and the have nots. Climaxing with a reflection on the Arab/Israeli conflict, “I Many Times Thought Of Peace”, he creates an album of stark, desolate beauty.
There is something of the Renaissance Man about Ketil Bjornstad who is recognised as a unique figure in the arts in Norway. Trained as a concert pianist, he has recorded over thirty albums since 1973, including five volumes of solo piano and collaborations with both jazz and rock musicians. Alongside his music career, he has been equally prolific as a writer, with over 20 novels plus collections of poetry and books of essays. In addition, he continues to write for newspapers and periodicals as a critic of literature and music.
Recorded by award winning engineer Jan-Erik Kongshaug from the famous Rainbow Studios in Oslo, and co-produced by live sound engineer Sven Persson, Seafarer’s Song is an album that’s very much of its time, a musical odyssey that depicts man’s eternal search for security in today’s traumatic world. “Seafarer’s Song" is ultimately an ode to all people struggling to find a harbour & a safe place to live,” says Bjornstad.
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