It almost beggars belief that this dark, brooding album was recorded live. Ketil Bjornstad’s ambitious music is realised with such panache and precision – and the project was recorded with such stunning three-dimensional stereo imaging and clarity – as to make it seem studio-honed and rigorously edited.
It helps that the Norwegian pianist/composer assembled a who’s who of European creative music. His projects often used to include the American cellist David Darling, and here he has the even more remarkable Anja Lechner, the Rosamunde Quartett cellist having successfully reinvented herself as an occasional improviser.
British saxophonist Andy Sheppard ensures the music has potency and weight as well as delicacy, and Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset (who has worked with artists ranging from Ray Charles to Ute Lemper!) layers the music with electronically-induced foreboding. The rhythm section, meanwhile, is a dream-team marrying Arild Anderson’s sprawling-yet-propulsive double bass with the meticulousness and elfin lightness of Marilyn Mazur’s drums and percussion.
Bjornstad’s ability to write haunting melodies is as strong as ever, and when they are carried by one of the most gorgeous cello sounds on earth it is as though the gates of heaven have opened just for a glimpse. An eight-part suite, the work flows between surprising textural combinations, ravishing tunes and thrilling improvising, with just an occasional flat spot.