Monday, 30 May 2016

Bjørnstad / Darling / Rypdal / Christensen - The Sea (1995)

I've still got tons of 90s ECM to discover.  By the middle of that decade, an increasingly prolific release schedule saw Manfred Eicher's portfolio diversify more than ever into modern (and not so modern) composed music, world music, American and European jazz, and various hybrids of all of the above.  The Sea is one of the 'hybrid' ones - it's certainly not jazz - and it's an outstanding jewel in this era of ECM.

Norweigan pianist Ketil Bjørnstad captains us through this voyage in his simple, understated style.  More muso listeners sometimes dismiss Bjørnstad as a facile composer and techincally deficient pianist, but he sounds great to me - and people don't criticise the likes of Harold Budd for only playing a few notes (or do they?).  Anyway, as soon as we've left shore it's clear that we're not in for a bucolic, fairweather journey.  Cellist David Darling paints an overcast, gathering sky throughout, and ECM "house drummer" Jon Christensen supplies the rain by sticking mostly to cymbals, with the occasional distant rumble of thunder. Beneath these unforgiving skies, the sea itself is only periodically calm as Terje Rypdal whips up squall after squall of choppy, rocky waves of overdriven guitar.

It's often said that this album is a tad overlong, and to be fair it is 75 minutes of music in very similar textural terrain.  Helpfully, Parts I-VI are a neat 45 minutes in length, and VII-XII a compact half-hour: I've often dug this album out and just listened to half of it at a time.  If you're in the mood for it though, just go the distance and stay on board for the whole trip - there's nothing quite like it. (Well, other than 'The Sea II'(1998) by the same quartet, which I haven't heard yet but is very much on my to-do list.)

The Sea

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