Life in Leipzig
The partnership of pianist Ketil Bjørnstad and electric guitarist Terje Rypdal works like a marriage of opposites. Their styles are diametrically opposed—Bjørnstad the classical musician, Rypdal the rocker—but their chemistry has stood the test of time.
Their new disc, Life in Leipzig, draws from a 2005 concert at the opera house in that German city. The first four pieces are presented as movements in a suite, as are the seven that follow, so the album feels halved, much the way a disc of piano concertos would be. Bjørnstad, playing a brilliant-sounding Bösendorfer, begins with low-end rumbles and adds some midrange clangs before Rypdal joins in with his wailing guitar. A classically structured motif of chords evolves, and Rypdal plucks with a bit of feedback. Bjørnstad settles into what almost sounds like a Rachmaninoff concerto, and Rypdal all but disappears. Bjørnstad’s left hand develops what could be described as classical stride, and Rypdal returns with a vengeance, letting loose with a searing riff. Bjørnstad’s classical stride continues while Rypdal builds an epic-rock crescendo. All of this occurs in the eight-minute opener, “The Sea V.”
This juxtaposition—classical pianist vs. in-your-face electric rock—pervades the entire album, even as the ideas and aesthetics vary. A lot of thought, too, goes into these improvisational works: “Alai’s Room,” “By the Fjord,” and “The Sea IX” each find Bjørnstad searching for the appropriate notes and emotional nuances. But at its most base, this duo is a study in contrasts, an experiment in both negotiation and defiance. The beauty of “The Sea II” lies in this very concept: clanging chords pitted against pealing notes, gorgeous piano phrases set off against visceral electric shredding. It makes you wonder if Vladimir Horowitz might have enjoyed playing with Eddie Van Halen.