Norwegian pianist Ketil Bjornstad is one of those few men left in the world to which the title eclectic truly means something. Not just a performer of classical and improvised music, he is also a composer, arranger, interpreter and author with more than 20 books published, primarily novels. Electric guitarist and fellow Norwegian Terje Rypdal has had his work featured in a variety of formats, but perhaps most prominently in Michael Mann’s movie "Heat." Together the two have been working in the duo format since 1999. Life in Leipzig, however, is their first recording together in this format; they’ve worked together in the quartet The Sea. Life was recorded live in Leipzig’s Opera House in 2005.
The best way to describe this forward-thinking but highly accessible duo is to think strong and heavily accented piano with classical connotations combined with muscular Stratocaster-ish guitar lines that feature a great amount of sustained and highly polished tones that ring with power and authority. That, however, doesn’t really do them justice. Jointly the two artists fashion music that is not just exploratory, but also cutting edge, beyond description, outside of all genres and truly deep; if music can be said to be deep then this recording should serve as the prototype.
In sum they tackle a collection of their own individual tunes as well as a fragment of a piece by Edvard Grieg. Every piece is a testament to their dexterous use of melodic fragment, motivic development, intuitive sense of how lines should end and meter-less stream of consciousness playing. "The Sea V," composed by Bjornstad, doesn’t begin as much as continue. Even though it’s the opening piece, so full is its concept at inception one imagines these two artists have just started where they left off at the end of the previous evening’s concert.
Seamlessly it blends into Rypdal’s "The Pleasure Is Mine, I’m Sure" in such a way that if you’re not careful you will believe all the music is constructed in the manner of free jazz, with ideas only coming at the moment, and while I’m sure they do one should never lose sight of the fact that compositional intent is an important driving factor in the music. This occurs again as "Pleasure" is then folded into Bjornstad’s "The Sea II."
The gift this recording gives throughout is the way it documents two master musicians who are so familiar with each other’s music they can faultlessly move between pieces transcending compositional structure. The consequence of this is that they achieve a symbiosis of musical technique that cannot be taught, only learned from years of association and shared musical experiences.
Those searching for hooks and trendy melodies will be vastly disappointed, but if you seek music that matters, then look no further.