KETIL BJORNSTAD AND ANNELI DRECKER-A SUITE OF POEMS.

Ketil Bjørnstad and Anneli Drecker-A Suite Of Poems.

Label: ECM Records.

Nowadays, part of the modern music industry is populated by third-rate wannabes, who in truth, have no right whatsoever to call themselves musicians. Many of this new breed of musicians, are DJs who also laughingly refer to themselves as a ‘producer’ despite having absolutely no musical training, and being unable play an instrument. Instead, these musical illiterates make music on a digital audio workstation and use samples to make music on their laptop. This gets round the producer’s lack of musical knowledge and inability to play a musical instrument. However, eventually, their lack of talent and musical knowledge is bound to catchup with them.

Sometimes, the ‘producer’ has to bring onboard someone in to lay down a vocal on their latest Magnus Opus, but given their lack of talent and knowledge, no vocalist with an ounce of talent will be willing to work with them. As a result, the producer is left to bring onboard a third-rate vocalist who lays down a vocal that is hopelessly out of tune. Not that the ‘producer’ notices this, until someone points this out. The now desperate ‘producer’ then tries to rescue the situation with Melodyne, and failing that, a myriad of effects that disguise the vocal. With the track now complete, the ‘producer’ then mixes and masters their masterpiece which is a hook free zone.

Once the mastering is complete, the ‘producer’ has destroyed what little dynamic range the track had, and it’s fallen victim to the loudness wars. Not that there’s any chance of the track being played in a club, never mind radio. However, the ‘producer’ is the ultimate optimist.

They even pay a little known hipster PR company to write a puff piece, which is circulated before the track is released online as a digital download. This proves to be its final resting place, as the online shop is the musical equivalent of the elephant’s graveyard, where bad music goes to die. 

Meanwhile, week after week, talented musicians and vocalists release much-anticipated and critically acclaimed albums of ambitious and innovative music. This includes Ketil Bjørnstad and Anneli Drecker’s album A Suite Of Poems which was recently released on ECM Records. It’s a collaboration two of the leading lights of the Nordic music scene Ketil Bjørnstad and Anneli Drecker.

Ketil Bjørnstad.

Sixty-six year old pianist, composer and author Ketil Bjørnstad, was born in Oslo, Norway, on the ’25th’ of April 1952, and growing up, was a prodigiously talented musician. He initially trained as a classical pianist in London and Paris, in and in 1966 and 1968 won the prestigious title Youth Piano Master. Later in 1968, Ketil Bjørnstad made his debut as a concert pianist, and this looked like the start of a long and successful career.

That was until Ketil Bjørnstad discovered and embraced European jazz and which by then, was growing in popularity and then jazz. Soon, Ketil Bjørnstad was working with the Norwegian rhythm section of drummer Jon Christensen, bassist Arild Andersen, guitarist Terje Rypdal, bassist Arild Andersen and drummer Jon Christensen who were joined by the American cellist David Darli. This was the start of  Ketil Bjørnstad’s musical career.

Ketil Bjørnstad wasn’t just a talented composer and pianist, he was also a poet writer, and in 1972, published his first volume of poetry  Alene Out, which was followed by a second volume, Closer in 1973. The following year, Ketil Bjørnstad’s first novel Nattsvermere was published in 1974. By then, his recording career was well underway.

In 1973, Ketil Bjørnstad released his debut album Åpning on Phillips, with Berget Det Blå following in 1974 and Tredje Dag in 1975. This was the start of a prolific recording career, with Ketil Bjørnstad often releasing two albums a year. 

When Ketil Bjørnstad released Finnes du noensteds i kveld in 1976, it reached number nine in the Norwegian charts and was his album that charted. This was the start a of successful period for the Oslo based pianist and author.

By the time that Ketil Bjørnstad signed to ECM Records, and released Water Stories in 1993, seven of his albums had charted, and he was regarded as a musical pioneer who released ambitious and innovative albums. Some of these albums that were released on ECM Records would feature his old friends Jon Christensen, Arild Andersen, Terje Rypdal and David Darli. They formed a formidable partnership during the nineties and into the noughties.

In 2003, Ketil Bjørnstad released The Nest, which was his first collaboration with thirty-four year old Anneli Drecker, who had started her career as the lead vocalist for the dream pop band Bel Canto in 1985. The Nest was released to critical acclaim and was just the latest successful album to bare Ketil Bjørnstad’s name.

Fifteen years later, and sixty-six year old Ketil Bjørnstad is a prolific author and recording artist, who has released in excess of fifty albums, and countless collaborations with the great and good of music. This includes A Suite Of Poems which is his second collaboration with Anneli Drecker.

Anneli Drecker.

Anneli Drecker was born 12 February 1969, and in 1985, the sixteen year old became the lead vocalist of Bel Canto in 1985. By the time Anneli Drecker was seventeen, she had left her Arctic hometown of Tromsø and was to embark upon a successful musical career.

In 1987, Bel Canto released their debut album White-Out Conditions, with their sophomore album Birds Of Passage following in 1989. It was released to critical acclaim and won Bel Canto the prestigious Spellemannprisen award, which is the equivalent of a Grammy Award. 

History repeated itself when Bel Canto released their third album Shimmering, Warm and Bright to critical acclaim in 1992 and again, it won a Spellemannprisen award. By then, critics were comparing Anneli Drecker’s ethereal vocal to Liz Fraser’s which was high praise indeed.

Having released three albums on indie label Crammed Discs, Bel Canto were signed to Atlantic Records, and in 1995 released their fourth album Magic Box on the Lava imprint Lava which won another Spellemannprisen award. The rise and rise of Bel Canto continued, and in 1998 they released their firth album Rush to plaudits and praise. After that, Anneli Drecker decided to take a sabbatical from Bel Canto and embark upon a solo career. 

In March 2001, Anneli Drecker released her critically acclaimed and genre-melting debut album Tundra. Critics were forecasting a bright future for Anneli Drecker as a solo artist, but she decided to put her solo career on hold.

Anneli Drecker was asked to join Röyksopp, and wrote and performed Sparks which featured on their debut album Melody A.M. which was released in September 2001. Melody A.M. was certified platinum in Norway, Britain and Holland, and  later in 2001, was nominated for, and won, the Spellemannprisen for the best electronic album. 

Following the success of Melody A.M, Anneli Drecker toured with Röyksopp, before recording Bel Canto’s sixth album Dorothy’s Victory which was released in 2002. This proved to be Bel Canto’s swan-song as far as studio albums were concerned.

Three years later, and Anneli Drecker released her sophomore album Frolic in April 2005,which marked a change in direction. Frolic was a much more downtempo album and this appealed to many critics, who lauded Anneli Drecker’s decision to reinvent herself

Another ten years passed before Anneli Drecker’s thoughts turned to her third album, and during that period she had embarked on two world tours with A-Ha and worked with toured and recorded with Röyksopp. However, in 2015 Anneli Drecker returned with her long-awaited third album, Rocks and Straws, which was a career defining album. It was followed by her critically acclaimed fourth album Revelation For Personal Use in May 2017. By then, Ketil Bjørnstad and Anneli Drecker had collaborated on a new project.

A Suite Of Poems. 

This was A Suite Of Poems written by Norwegian-Danish author Lars Saabye Christensen, who is one of Scandinavia’s top contemporary writers. He’s also been a friend of Ketil Bjørnstad since the pair were teenagers, and nowadays, when Lars Saabye Christensen travels the world, he always sends his old friend what he calls “hotel poems” which explore a range of moods. Lars Saabye Christensen invites Ketil Bjørnstad to make music out of these “hotel poems.”

Ketil Bjørnstad remembers that: “I started writing music to his poems more than 20 years ago” and say that Lars Saabye Christensen’s: “ability to expose the inner conflicts we all bring with us in our suitcases is striking.” 

That is apparent on the thirteen songs on A Suite Of Poems, which was recorded by pianist Ketil Bjørnstad and vocalist Anneli Drecker in Oslo’s Rainbow Studio in June 2016. It’s a powerful, poignant and thought-provoking song cycle that deserves to be compared to Ketil Bjørnstad’s critically acclaimed projects like 2013s Sunlight and 2014s A Passion For John in Donne.

The thirteen songs that feature on A Suite Of Poems document Lars Saabye Christensen’s travels including a stay at the Mayflower, New York, then the Duxton, Melbourne, Kempinski, Berlin, L’Hotel, Paris and Palace, Copenhagen. By then, it’s apparent that there’s a connection between composer and pianist Ketil Bjørnstad who admits: “I feel very connected to the lonely, existential perspective of these poems, made in different hotel rooms.” 

They’re brought to life by Anneli Drecker’s ethereal vocal which breathes life, meaning, emotion and existential angst into the songs which explore a range of moods. Ketil Bjørnstad’s choice of Anneli Drecker to interpret songs on A Suite Of Poems was inspired, and proof of that is the rueful Astor Crowne, New Orleans which threatens to swing. 

Soon, Anneli Drecker is delivering a ruminative, heartfelt vocal on The Grand, Krakow, which is tinged with sadness and loneliness.There’s a similar sense of sadness on the cinematic Palazzo Londra, Venice and Vier Jahreszeiten, Hamburg which is rich in imagery. One of the most poignant songs is Savoy, Lisbon which features one of Anneli Drecker finest vocals. She then lays bare her soul and secrets on Mayday Inn, Hong Kong as she admits: “big rooms make me nervous” in a song that tells the story the lonely globetrotting traveller. They arrive in Lutetia, Paris where Anneli Drecker delivers a vocal that is a mixture of sadness and hope, before Schloss Elmau which is a poignant and wistful showcase for Ketil Bjørnstad’s piano completes the song cycle A Suite Of Poems. 

Although A Suite Of Poems features just Ketil Bjørnstad’s piano and the ethereal vocal of Anneli Drecker, this proves hugely effective and is further proof that sometimes, less is more. It would’ve been easy to add strings which would add to the emotional impact of the song cycle, but this may have distracted the listener. The focus of their attention is Anneli Drecker’s vocal, as she tells the story of the lonely globetrotting traveller who spends their life living in a suitcase far from home. She’s accompanied by Ketil Bjørnstad’s piano and the pair are like yin and yang, on A Suite Of Poems which is one of the finest albums released on ECM Records during 2018.

A Suite Of Poems features thirteen tracks that between beautiful and confessionals to poignant and powerful to rueful and ruminative to thought-provoking and sometimes are full loneliness and existential angst. Together, the music on A Suite Of Poems is spartan and understated, but also breathtakingly beautiful as Anneli Drecker plays a starring role and breathes life, meaning and emotion into Lars Saabye Christensen’s “hotel poems” which were turned into songs by composer and pianist Ketil Bjørnstad on this captivating and enchanting album.

Ketil Bjørnstad and Anneli Drecker-A Suite Of Poems.

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