The sky rolls in from the sea
Like blue timber
I am almost awake, lost
Between dreams and departures
Time is not on my side
Settings of poetry and other literary texts form a special category in the discography of Norwegian pianist-composer Ketil Bjørnstad and A Suite of Poems, recorded at Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in June 2016, is a song cycle to put alongside such projects as A Passion for John Donne, Sunrise, and The Light.
Norwegian-Danish author Lars Saabye Christensen is one of Scandinavia’s most widely-praised contemporary writers. A prolific author, he published his first book, the poetry collection Historien om Gly in 1976, and won Norway’s Tarjei Vesaas' debutantpris for best newcomer, to be followed in due course by many more literary awards. He has since written more than 40 books, novels and poetry primarily, as well as film scripts.
Lars Saabye Christensen and Ketil Bjørnstad – both born in Oslo (Christensen in 1953, Bjørnstad a year earlier) have known each other since they were teenagers. For many years now, in the course of his travels around the globe, Christensen has been sending “hotel poems” to his friend Ketil Bjørnstad, inviting him to make music out of them. “I started writing music to his poems more than 20 years ago,” writes Ketil in his liner note for A Suite of Poems. “His ability to expose the inner conflicts we all bring with us in our suitcases is striking.”
Christensen’s literary postcards explore a range of moods. Bjørnstad: “I feel very connected to the lonely, existential perspective of these poems, made in different hotel rooms.” For this recording, Ketil worked closely with singer and actress Anneli Drecker, vocalist of pop group Bel Canto. Ketil and Anneli are also friends of long-standing. Drecker had sung on Bjørnstad’s Grace album, with settings of John Donne, back in 2000, and toured with him. She too had taken to sending Ketil “poetic, sad, or funny” messages from far flung hotels when she was out touring the world with A-ha or Royskopp.
“So what is the hidden secret of travelling, and living such a big part of our lives in hotel rooms?”, asks Ketil Bjørnstad. “In a certain sense, we are three of a kind, making this album together.”
Ketil Bjørnstad, described by The Guardian as “a cultural prodigy”, trained initially as a classical pianist, transferring his allegiances to jazz after hearing Miles Davis and Terje Rypdal. Bjørnstad made his first recording, with a quartet that included Jon Christensen and Arild Andersen, in 1973. Another 20 years would pass before he came to ECM, with Water Stories, a collaboration with Rypdal and Christensen. Bjørnstad is also a bestselling and widely translated novelist, and although the composer long kept his two creative currents apart, in recent years there has been much more overt cross-fertilisation. A Passion for John Donne, released in 2014, is inspired by the great English Metaphysical poet who has fascinated the composer for decades. A previous song cycle of Donne settings featured on the album, The Light. The double CD Vinding’s Music takes the listener into the heart of Bjørnstad’s literary world, and is a sort of “literary soundtrack” to his trilogy of novels about a young Norwegian pianist, Aksel Vinding.
Anneli Drecker, born in 1969 in Tromsø first came to international attention in the 1980s as vocalist with Bel Canto, whose synthesizer driven pop music and ‘Arctic electronica’ dreamscapes proved highly influential in the period, and led to collaborations with musicians including Jah Wobble and Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, as well as many experimentally-inclined Norwegian players. In parallel, Drecker has had a successful career as an actor in Norway, appearing in numerous theatre productions, as well as films and TV, and also made several solo albums. Anneli Drecker has also set poetry to music, including verse of Arvid Handsen.