Ketil Bjørnstad

Ketil Bjornstad, a classically trained jazz pianist who is also a keen advocate for avant-garde improvised musical compositions, is a well-known European musician and writer. Bjornstad is known for his cerebral and atmospheric style, which belies an inner passion and a inclination towards genre-crossing compositions. He helped to popularize “European Jazz” and its aesthetic. Bjornstad is also a poet and writer. His 1972 poetry collection Alone was his first publication. He began recording a year later with Apning, and issued some 24 studio outings include 1977’s Selena for Phillips, 1983’s Bjornstad/Paus/Hamsun with singer Ole Paus, and lyrics by author Knut Hamsun for KKV, and 1990’s The Shadow, wherein Bjornstad set the poems of John Donne to music. He signed to ECM in 1993 and issued Water Stories. This was the start of a series H2O-themed releases for the label, which included 1995’s The Sea and 1997’s The River. Terje Rypdal, Jon Christensen and David Darling were also featured on The Sea II. Bjornstad left ECM after 2000’s Epigraphs (with Darling) and moved to Universal Jazz where he recorded a series of albums, including 2003’s The Nest with Anneli Drecker. Hart Crane wrote the lyrics. The 2006 solo album Rainbow Sessions received acclaim from classical and jazz critics. Bjornstad was back at ECM for 2008’s The Light and, notably, 2014’s A Passion For John Donne, which featured the pianist adapting the work his favorite poet. For a series audiobooks and recordings, he returned to Grappa. The pianist and Drecker reunited in 2018 for A Suite of Poems. Bjornstad released three albums for Grappa, including The World I Used To Know, a solo album of 20 tracks. Born in Oslo in Norway, Bjornstad studied classical music in London and Paris, before making his debut with the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1969, playing Bela Bartok’s third piano concerto. Bjornstad was surrounded by Oslo’s vibrant arts scene during the 1970s and became interested in jazz music and creating his own style. Bjornstad started to work in an improvised style, citing a variety of influences such as Bach and Ravel, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. His 1973 debut album Apning was released. It featured a core group of long-time friends, including drummer Jon Christensen and guitarist Terje Rypdal. Phillips would release several albums by Bjornstad. Bjornstad’s unique mix of jazz and classical music, folk, and rock music was a major influence on the development of “European Jazz” over the years. He is well-known for his association with ECM, the leading European jazz label. However, he didn’t record for ECM until later in his career, 1993’s Water Stories and 1994’s The Sea. 1997’s The River was his last album. 1998’s The Sea II was his second. Bjornstad and cellist David Darling released the duo album Epigraphs on ECM in 2000. He also composed the millennium oratorio, “Himmel Rand”, featuring the text of Stein Mehren. He released the cinematic soundscape album Before The Light on Universal in 2002. Bjornstad’s rock-oriented Seafarer’s Song was released in 2004 with his band and Kristin Asbjornsen as vocalists. He returned to ECM four years later for the concert album, Live in Leipzig, with Rypdal. Bjornstad worked again with drummer Christensen and tenor saxophonist Tore Brunborg in 2008 for ECM’s Remembrance. Bjornstad released the duo album Night Song in 2011 with cellist Svante Heinrichson on ECM. He is also a poet, novelist and essayist. To that end, he created a series that he described as “a soundtrack for an inner movie.” In the spring of 2013, Bjornstad recorded the live suite La Notte with Marilyn Mazur (bassist), Eivind Aarset (guitar and electronics), and Anja Lechner (cellist). The composer and pianist was prolific in 2014. His debut album of the year was Sunrise: A Cantata On Texts By Edward Munch (2012), which was released in March. It featured the pianist, his quartet and vocal soloist Kari Brennnes. The Oslo Chamber Choir, under the direction Egil Fossum, also performed. The famous painter’s surviving texts were used to create the musical work. ECM released in October 2014 the premiere performance of Bjornstad’s A Passion for John Donne. This work was commissioned by Oslo International Church Festival and performed live with the Oslo Chamber Choir under Hakon Daniel Nystedt. It featured Hakon Kornstad, the saxophonist, in a dual role. He played his horn and sang solo. In 2015, Bjornstad returned to Grappa to release four very different albums: The solo outings Shimmering and Images, Bartok|Debussy|Ravel, a retrospective of his classical work from 1969 played solo and with the Oslo Symphony Orchestra, and a band collaboration with vocalist Ole Paus, entitled Frolandia. A Suite of Poems was released by Drecker and the pianist in 2018. Bjornstad released the solo album of 20 tracks, The World I Used to Know in 2019, from allmusic

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