Life in Leipzig

Ketil Bjørnstad, Terje Rypdal

A live recording from the Leipzig Opera House is the debut documentation of the duo of Ketil Bjørnstad and Terje Rypdal (active already since 1999). Material revisits pieces from Bjørnstad’s “Water Stories” and “The Sea” and from Rypdal’s “If Mountains Could Sing” and “Skywards”, and adds a Grieg theme and new material. Cranked-amp electric guitar and acoustic piano is a rare, possibly unique, duo combination, but as Ketil notes in his tour diary liner notes, “I am not always the softest pianist, and especially not when I am working with Terje.”

Featured Artists Recorded

October 2005, Leipzig Opera

Original Release Date


  • 1The Sea V
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 2The Pleasure Is Mine, I’m Sure
    (Terje Rypdal)
  • 3The Sea II
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 4Flotation And Surroundings
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 5Easy Now
    (Terje Rypdal)
  • 6Notturno (fragment)
    (Edvard Grieg)
  • 7Alai's Room
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 8By The Fjord
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 9The Sea IX
    (Ketil Bjørnstad)
  • 10Le Manfred / Foran Peisen
    (Terje Rypdal)
  • 11The Return Of Per Ulv
    (Terje Rypdal)
There’s a classical depth to Ketil Bjørnstad’s piano, but this isn’t classical music … And Terje Rypdal’s post-Hendrix guitar howls at the moon, but he isn’t really playing rock. … For this live disc, they distill their poetic soundscapes to a duo. … This is staggeringly beautiful music, able to beguile anyone with open ears.
Bradley Bambarger, The Star-Ledger
Both musicians are powerful melodists and natural storytellers, a duality that is both enduring and timeless, and is at the heart of these absorbing performances.
Stuart Nicholson, Jazzwise
Rypdal’s singing electric guitar sound begins to whirl over percussive piano chording; it dives from violin-like high sounds to dark, flailing descents and back up to wheeling-bird cries on The Sea II, over Bjørnstad’s urgent ostinato. … The 10-minute finale, in which Rypdal’s astonishing multi-layered solo Le Manfred/Foran Peisen segues into the ecstatic and infectious progrocker The Return of Per Ulv, is just about worth the price of the disc.
John Fordham, The Guardian
One of the most ecstatic celebrations of melody and inspired romantic expressiveness ever made.
Manchmal klingt Rypdals Gitarre, als werde Stahl am Schleifstein gewetzt – oder sie tastet leise nach Akkorden. Sie schreit, jault, summt und schmeichelt. Dabei bevorzugt Rypdal flächige Sounds, die sich wunderbar an Bjørnstads Klavierspiel reiben. Auch er nutzt alle Facetten vom wilden Stakkato bis zum sanften Träumen. Das bestens aufeinander abgestimmte Duo entführt mit dem Live-Mitschnitt in das von Widersprüchen geprägte Life in Leipzig.
Hans Sterner, Stereoplay
Oft sind die Grenzen zwischen Komposition und Improvisation bis zur Unkenntlichkeit verwischt. Was hier im Zusammenspiel entsteht, hat eine organische Qualität bar jeglichen Kalküls.
Tom Fuchs, Piano News
In der Tat ist diese Aufnahme ein Dokument, eine seltsam schöne Standortbestimmung der aktuellen Position beider, die seit den frühen siebziger Jahren wesentlich beteiligt waren am folgenreichen Aufbruch des Jazz aus dem hohen Norden. Der Pianist eher von der Klassik herkommend, der Gitarrist mit tiefen Wurzeln im Rock, so hat jeder für sich seine Mitte gefunden als höchst individualisierte Melange diverser Elemente, die allesamt mit norwegischen Atmosphären zu tun haben.
Ulrich Steinmetzger, Leipziger Volkszeitung
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.
2024 October 25 Schloss Engers Neuwied, Germany