Ketil Bjørnstad’s ECM discography is shaping up as a musical roman-fleuve on watery themes, and The Sea II follows Water Stories (recorded 1993), The Sea (1995), and The River (1996). Studio productions and touring of the last few years have served to sharply define the tasks of the individual players in Bjørnstad’s band. Improvisation in this unit is concerned not so much with interaction in the conventional jazz sense as with cross-currents. England’s Jazz Journal described the band’s sound as "quintessential ECM tone poem music, with leader Bjørnstad’s rubato and occasionally rhapsodic pianism cast very much in an adagio mould. Poetic and pensive in its rippling moods and keening delivery, with Darling’s cello striking a typically meditative note, Christensen rolling and floating across barlines with customary sensitivity and imagination, and plangent passages of extraordinary, soaring intensity from Rypdal."
The Sea II
Ketil Bjørnstad, David Darling, Jon Christensen, Terje Rypdal
- 2Outward Bound
- 4The Mother
- 5Song For A Planet
Writing in England's Jazz Journal, Michael Tucker described this album's predecessor as "quintessential ECM tone poem music, with leader Bjørnstad's rubato and occasionally rhapsodic pianism cast very much in an adagio mould. Poetic and pensive in its rippling moods and keening delivery, with Darling's cello striking a typically meditative note, Christensen rolling and floating across bar lines with customary sensitivity and imagination, and some plangent passages of extraordinary, soaring intensity from Rypdal". The Sea was in itself a Volume II of sorts, continuing where Bjørnstad's ECM debut Water Stories left off, and in between "Seas" there has also been The River, Bjørnstad's smoother flowing, highly successful 1996 duet recording with cellist Darling. The Sea II, then, is really the fourth installment in a roman-fleuve on watery themes. The studio productions and the touring of the last few years have turned the quartet into a real band, and the tasks of the individual players have become more sharply defined. Improvisation in this unit is not so much concerned with interaction in the conventional jazz sense - of the four players, only Christensen can be said to have an unambiguous "jazz" pedigree - as with cross-currents. The ensemble sound swells around the patient, controlled chord-voicing of Ketil Bjørnstad. Frequently the drummer and guitarist Rypdal are employed as disruptive elements, dangerous breakers shattering the deceptive calm. Leader Bjørnstad has noted that water metaphors can be extended almost ad infinitum when discussing this group but for him the idea of "The Sea" signifies the horizontal and vertical movement in the music. "You have the horizontal movement of the waves - and that's a nice metaphor for the linearity of our music - and on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean bed. Total transparency. And that's the vertical element." However, the sea is also a biographical as well as a metaphorical reference. When Ketil Bjørnstad was struggling to find his artistic direction, he left Oslo to live on a small island lying to the southwest of the capital. He stayed there for 15 years. "It wasn't a philosophical or romantic quest, to exchange the city for a lonely landscape. I simply liked the nearness of the sea, yet I found I became quieter within myself, I discovered new levels of concentration and my work grew in a way it couldn't have done with all the tempting distractions of the city."
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