Ketil Bjørnstad, David Darling

Bjørnstad/Darling’s first duet album "The River" was one of the runaway successes of our 1997 programme, described by the Sydney Morning Herald as "An unforgettable listening experience." On "Epigraphs", the frame of reference for the Norwegian pianist and the American cellist is the music of the Renaissance. Darling and Bjørnstad play arrangements of pieces by William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Guillaume Dufay, and Gregor Aichinger as well as compositions of their own, inspired by these old masters. The result is an extremely attractive, gentle, often slowly-moving music of great clarity.

Featured Artists Recorded

September 1998, Rainbow Studio, Oslo

  • 1Epigraph No. 1
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 2Upland
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 3Wakening
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 4Epigraph No. 1, Var. 1
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 5Pavane
    (William Byrd)
  • 6Fantasia
    (Orlando Gibbons)
  • 7Epigraph No. 1, Var. 2
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 8The Guest
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 9After Celan
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 10Song for TKJD
    (David Darling, Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 11Silent Dream
    (David Darling)
  • 12The Lake
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 13Gothic
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 14Epigraph No. 1, Var. 3
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 15Le jour s'endort
    (Guillaume Dufay)
  • 16Factus Est Repente
    (Gregor Aichinger)
Stereoplay, Die Audiophile
What a record it is! Epigraphs combines the delicately weighted, mathematically perfect, lingering notes from Bjørnstad's piano with the growling, soaring singing of Darling's cello. Like their earlier collaboration The River, the pieces here owe much to 16th/17th century composers William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons. The pair share a mutual instinct for improvisation which has resulted in one of the most exquisite albums of slow, raw music to emerge in recent years.
Mike Bradley, The Times
The range of influences at work is considerable. Debussy, Satie, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, and Bill Evans all come to mind, further expanded by the duo's arrangements of early music works. Yet the end result is anything but a potpourri. The influences, like the improvising, are completely subsumed into the music as a whole, which is utterly timeless and as thoroughly crafted as fine poetry. Music like this could calm querulous children, placate shrewish wives and even illumine oafish husbands. Were it given the chance, that is.
John Shand,Sidney Morning Herald
Es gibt einige wenige Platten, die länger dauern als ihre Spielzeit. Sie klingen fort im Kopf, weil ihre Musik unendlich ist. Manchmal ist das so, weil die Musik so nahe kommt, dass sie den Hörer unmittelbar berührt, bisweilen liegt es an der Ferne, aus der sie klingt, der Sehnsucht, die sie erzeugt. Das Album Epigraphs des norwegischen Pianisten Ketil Bjørnstad und des amerikanischen Cellisten David Darling entfaltet Magie mit den ersten Klaviertönen, die tastend einen Raum beschreiben, der vorher noch nicht da war. Und kaum sind die drei Minuten vorüber, die das Stück dauert, will es scheinen, dieser Raum habe sich vor allem deshalb geöffnet, um zu zeigen, dass dahinter noch viele andere Räume sind. … Sowohl das musikalische Material als auch die Zusammenstellung der sechzehn Stücke scheint beherrscht vom Streben Bjørnstads und Darlings, langsam, geheimnisvoll und leidenschaftlich zu sein. Ihre eigenen musikalischen Wurzeln verfangen sich dabei in Vorlagen aus der Renaissance, als Komponieren auch mathematischen Gesetzen gehorchte und Reinheit als objektivierbare Größe galt.
Andreas Obst, FAZ
Panta rhei - alles fließt. Diese alte griechische Weisheit, nach der das Sein keine unverrückbare Konstante ist, sondern sich ständig in Bewegung befindet, ist im Denken und Fühlen jedes Künstlers präsent, der mit seinem Schaffen die vorgefundene Realität/Materie gestaltet, verändert, in die Zukunft weiterfantasiert. Der Norweger Ketil Bjørnstad - Komponist, Pianist, Buchautor - hat zu der Metapher des Fließens noch eine viel konkretere Beziehung. Er nahm für ECM bisher vier brillante, stilistisch einmalige und monumental gut klingende Alben auf, deren Titel allesamt um das Motiv des Wassers kreisten. … Mit seiner fünften CD für die Münchner nimmt Bjørnstad erstmals Abschied von dieser Tradition. Dennoch ist auch bei den Epigraphs die Musik auf wunderbare Weise im Fluss - weich und formstreng zugleich, mitreißend gerade in ihrer Behutsamkeit. Ein Reigen berückend schöner Kammermusik-Stücke, zum großen Teil inspiriert von den Renaissance-Komponisten William Byrd und Orlando Gibbons.
Matthias Inhoffen, Stereoplay
“The River” (ECM 1593), the 1996 recording by Norwegian pianist Ketil Bjørnstad and American cellist David Darling received positive press notices around the world for its thoughtful and unostentatious approach to transidiomatic music-making. “An unforgettable listening experience”, the Sydney Morning Herald insisted: “The boundaries between composition and improvisation are blurred beyond recognition. What emerges has an organic quality devoid of contrivances to provide ‘blowing vehicles’ or display ‘clever writing’. Similarly, ‘great playing’ has been entirely subordinated to the cause of the most profoundly direct emotional communication with the listener. Much of what happens is quite simple: sublime melody from one instrument, delicately shaded by the other.” This process is extended on “Epigraphs”, which features performances of exceptional subtlety, whether shaped spontaneously in the moment, pre-formulated by cellist or pianist, or freely based upon music of the renaissance, an inspirational source for both musicians.

Darling and Bjørnstad are both members of The Sea(see ECM1545 and 1633) the tempestuous quartet, now in its sixth year of existence, which also includes Terje Rypdal on guitar and Jon Christensen on drums; the duo was formed to isolate certain characteristics that arose in that group’s improvising.

“From the beginning with The Sea,” David Darling recalls, “there would be moments when, after a lot of movement or a lot of colour, you’d have perhaps an eight or sixteen bar phrase of purity or beauty, with no exaggeration, no vibrato on the cello, moments of pure tone really, with Ketil playing piano in such a reduced and simplistic way. There was something unique to this dynamic that we both wanted to take further. Plus, I’ve always been interested in ‘adagio’ and slow music generally, as my records on ECM show, and to a find a pianist with a similar sensibility and be able to explore these ideas together in a recording situation is, for me, a wonderful opportunity.”

David Darling and Ketil Bjørnstad have in common a background in classical music. Darling studied with the virtuoso cellist and Bach specialist Janos Starker, while Bjørnstad at one point had contem-plated a career as an interpreter of the classical tradition (and made his concert debut in 1969 with the Oslo Philharmonic). And although both the pianist and cellist have worked extensively with jazz im-provisers over the last 30 years, each has done so on his own terms; developing a personal style without appropriating the specific vocabulary of ‘jazz’. “Ketil has a very similar feeling in his improvisa-tions to my own,” Darling notes. “There’s some kind of cross mix in there between a contemporary improvisation that relates to Stravinsky and Shostakovich and an improvisatory approach that relates to the classical music era and also to impressionism and the whole spectrum of late romantic and early 20th century music. We touch on all of this.”

Ketil Bjørnstad feels that the duo is “playing with much more focus now, with a conscious mind. David and I have been through such a lot of different experiences together and they’ve given us strength. Quite early on we decided, for instance, that the first half hour of any of our concerts would be improvised, before we would allow ourselves to approach anything written. This was an important step and it showed us what we were capable of. And then again, the growing emphasis on older music, as the duo has developed, has provided a special framework, a unique framework for contemporary improvisers I would think, that we’re both very happy to be inside.”

On “The River”, the players, encouraged by producer Manfred Eicher, brought in music of the 16th-17th century composers Orlando Gibbons and William Byrd, whose work has a role to play, as source material, also on “Epigraphs”. “I’ve always loved early renaissance and medieval music,” Darling says, “and I’ve been listening to that music more and more over the last ten or fifteen years. When we started rehearsing together, Ketil brought in some Orlando Gibbons to work through and I also brought in some early music and we were both just exhilarated by the experience. So we started to see if we could write in that way. Or if it was possible to improvise with it while still retaining that innocence.”

Ketil Bjørnstad: “And many concerts and conversations later, we had the feeling that more could be said, in a musical way. There were still so many Byrd and Gibbons pieces to be played, and David found this beautiful piece ‘Le jour s’endort’ by Guillaume Dufay while I myself picked up a piece by Gregor Aichinger. Much music was recorded for ‘Epigraphs’, but in the end we chose to retain only these pieces which were written by or most obviously inspired by, these old masters. That old music is so pure, and so mathematically perfect that it reminds you all of the time of what you should be struggling towards in your own free improvising – to take control of the emotions in a way, but also to let them flow.”

A departure from the modus operandi of “The River” is marked in “Song for TKJD”. The piece is built up in mysterious, overdubbed layers of cello, recorded in David Darling’s Connecticut home studio, to which Bjørnstad appended a piano part in Oslo’s Rainbow Studio. The net “chamber ensemble” effect suggests a continuation of elements sketched on earlier Darling albums such as “Journal October”, “Cello” and “Dark Wood”. Jean-Luc Godard, who has used music by David Darling in several of films including “Nouvelle Vague”, “Forever Mozart” and “Histoire(s) du Cinéma” (the latter two also with music by Bjørnstad), has already expressed his approval of “TKJD” and its incorpora-tion into a future soundtrack seems likely. Darling: “That’s been such an unexpected honour, to have had Mr Godard consistently interested in the work over the years – unimaginable, surely, without Manfred (Eicher) to make the connections.”