Ketil Bjørnstad and Terje Rypdal’s ECM recordings together have included Bjørnstad’s “Water Stories” and albums with The Sea, the quartet whose line-up was completed by cellist David Darling and drummer Jon Christensen. In 1999 they made their first experiments with duo playing, and have since toured the world with their highly unorthodox format of cranked-amp guitar and acoustic piano. This constellation has surprised its participants by becoming the primary touring focus for both players, taking them, as Bjørnstad notes, “from Taiwan to Canada, from Italy to the Shetlands, from Lanzarote to the North of Norway. Terje is now the musician with whom I’ve worked most extensively.”
“Life in Leipzig”, a concert recording made by German radio station MDR at Leipzig’s Opera House, during the city’s jazz festival in 2005, is the first documentation of the duo’s progress. It is also Bjørnstad’s first live recording for ECM, and his first release for the label in almost a decade (“Epigraphs”, a duo with David Darling, was recorded in1998, and released in 2000). Repertoire on “Life in Leipzig” revisits, rearranges and transforms pieces previously played on The Sea’s two albums and on “Water Stories”, as well as tunes from Rypdal’s “Skywards” and “If Mountains Could Sing”, including the hard-driving concert favourite “The Return of Per UIv”, and Edvard Grieg’s “Notturno”.
Ketil Bjørnstad sets the scene for the music to follow with depth soundings at the bottom end of the Bösendorfer on the opening piece, “The Sea V”, and Rypdal responds accordingly. The duo setting is one that clearly appeals to the guitarist, who lets rip with very outgoing playing throughout. Bjørnstad, too, plays more forcefully than on his duo discs with David Darling. A question of pitting acoustic against electric energies. “I am not always the softest pianist, and especially not when I am working with Terje”, he remarks in liner notes which are both a tour diary and a chronicle of a friendship. In the book “Horizons Touched” (Granta 2007), Bjørnstad analyses the essence of Rypdal’s originality as guitarist:
“Not much equipment is needed to get the Terje Rypdal sound. All you need is some pedals (overdrive, volume pedal and an echo system), two Vox AC30 amplifiers, one of his few favourite guitars [usually a Stratocaster or a Fender Squire] and the man himself. His guitar sound is closely allied to his melodic imagination. When I first worked with him, on the suite I wrote for him - released by ECM as ‘Water Stories’ - he raised the melodic concept to a higher level through his sound and timing and his ornamental phrasing. He believes in those melodies. He has to tell the story first, in the best way and then begin to paraphrase it. He loves Grieg as much as Ligeti. It is a rare combination. And in between he finds his own identity...”
One of the Big Four of Norwegian jazz musicians introduced by ECM in 1970 (the others being Jan Garbarek, Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen), Rypdal made his label debut on Garbarek’s “Afric Pepperbird” soon followed by his own album, called just “Terje Rypdal”, and recorded in August 1971. Since then he has issued 22 albums as a leader for ECM and appeared also on albums by Barre Phillips, Tomasz Stanko, Edward Vesala, Michael Mantler and Heinz Reber. Rypdal on ECM represents a lot of creative options, from the hard rock- inclined recordings with the Chasers (“Blue”, “The Singles Collection”) to symphonic and choral music (“Double Concerto/5th Symphony”, “Lux Aeterna”) to the recent, and widely acclaimed, tribute to Miles Davis “Vossabrygg”. Already recorded and planned for release later in 2008 is “Melodic Warrior”, featuring the Hilliard Ensemble, the Bruckner Orchester Linz under the direction of Dennis Russell Davies, and Terje’s electric guitar.
Ketil Bjørnstad is amongst the most prolific of contemporary artists, “a cultural prodigy” in the words of The Guardian’s John Fordham. In addition to being a pianist, composer-arranger, improviser and interpreter who has released 50 albums since 1972, and whose music has been included in films by Jean-Luc Godard, Lea Pool, Ken Loach and Witold Adamek, Bjørnstad has published more than 30 books in his homeland – novels, poetry, collections of essays. For 25 years he was music and literary critic of Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. His work has been widely translated. In Germany his novel “Vindings Spiel” was a best seller (UK publication, as “To Music”, is scheduled for 2009). April 2008 sees the German translation, at Insel Verlag, of his novel “Oda”, about painter Oda Krohg (1860-1935), and another reading tour for its author.
The CD booklet of "Life in Leipzig" includes a liner text by Ketil Bjørnstad in English, and liner photos.
Next ECM release due from Ketil Bjørnstad is the “The Light: Songs of Love and Fear” featuring mezzo-soprano Randi Stene and violinist Lars Anders Tomter, in performances of Bjørnstad’s ‘Four Nordic Songs’ and settings of the poetry of John Donne.