Ketil Bjørnstad

La Notte

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The title of Ketil Bjørnstad's La Notte is taken directly from Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni's film of the same name -- the cover photo is a still from it. This labyrinthine suite, a tribute to the filmmaker's formative influence on the composer, was recorded live at the Molde International Jazz Festival in 2010. Bjørnstad chose his players -- all of them closely associated with ECM -- carefully: Anja Lechner, violoncello; Marilyn Mazur, drums and percussion; Arild Andersen, bass; Eivind Aarset, guitars and electronics, and Andy Sheppard, saxophones. The composer is well known for his unhurried approach to thematic development, exploring both lush and minimal harmonies with the same attention to detail and sense of flow. There's plenty of that here, but given that this is a tribute to a filmmaker, the slow unfolding of the movements here carries within it drama, shifting dynamics, and even some sly humor. Check the melodic interplay between Lechner and Sheppard's soprano, akin to both folk and cafe music in "Part 3." In "Part 2," Bjørnstad's crystalline theme gives way to a graceful yet brooding turbulence from Sheppard's tenor, Aarset's electronics, and the low register of Lechner's instrument. While limpid, almost languid beauty can be heard between the pianist and Lechner as they move through the cyclic, restrained harmonics and dynamics on "Part 6"; dissonance, by way of Aarset's heavily treated, screaming guitar and Sheppard's insistent soprano decorate "Part 7." Mazur and Andersen drive them both toward a collision point. It's breathtaking. It would have been thrilling to be in the audience for this performance. Bjørnstad has always valued subtlety and suggestion over frenetic engagement on his recordings. That is certainly true here, but he is also a wise bandleader: he chose these players for their myriad abilities to dialogue kinetically, listen deeply, and respond powerfully whenever the music dictated, and he was correct in doing so across the board. La Notte is rich, deep, and wonderful.

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