KETIL BJØRNSTAD – Seafarer’s Song (2004)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Ketil Bjørnstad is a classically trained Norwegian pianist and composer who is one of those artists who recorded most of their output on the well-known ECM label which basically means it’s going to be some middle ground between jazz, modern classical and new-age. Interestingly enough, the album in question – Seafarer’s Song – was released on a different label (EmArcy) but it is still an ECM album in essence.

Due to the shortage of time I’m experiencing at this point of my life I’ll have to keep this review brief and basically break it down to certain thoughts that came to my mind when I heard this record:

1) It definitely requires the listener to be in a certain mood that is pretty nicely summed up by the album cover art – that of a vast and fairly peaceful sea expanse, but with heavy clouds above it and a slight rain falling on its surface. It’s a seafarer’s song indeed, mostly elegiac and longing but occasionally changing to more energetic and resolute.

2) To properly enjoy Seafarer’s Song you’d have to appreciate Kristin Asbjørnsen’s slightly gruff vocals which I do not. In fact I think that this album would be truly great if it were purely instrumental. The unique combination of the piano, cello, electric guitar and occasional mournful trumpet is pretty amazing and creates a very specific mood (see p. 1). The vocals do nothing for me though, unfortunately.

3) The album is labeled jazz, but in fact it has little to do with jazz – it does not sound like it was improvised and does not feature many dissonant chords, saxophone solos or anything like that. Some instrumental passages do feel jazzy, but saying that this is a jazz album means missing the point of the record entirely. In fact, here is a nominally “highbrow” record that can be perfectly enjoyed by classic rock lovers. It actually consists of rather conventional songs (most of them slow and melancholic), which is its strength and weakness at the same time. If you’re in the mood for this you’ll probably enjoy it, but if you’re not this can get boring as hell.

4) It slightly grew on me after repeated listens (I even got used to the vocals) and I actually wouldn’t be surprised if I felt an urge to return to this sometime in the future. No regrets on hearing this overall, good stuff.