Ketil Bjørnstad and Anneli Drecker ‘A Suite of Poems’ CD (ECM) 4/5

Here is a most intriguing concept. Think of the various hotel rooms in the world that a musician might reside in and how a musician might react to that environment. Then enlist a poet to write about that very same very experience and place those words into a musical context with a pared down piano and vocal accompaniment. Perhaps, only a label with the track record of ECM would have the confidence and sheer braggadocio to issue such a release, but this precisely what they have done. Regular ECM participant Ketil Bjørnstad is joined here by vocalist Anneli Drecker who performs the totality of the repertoire in English. The voice has something of a pop/folk tone and to these ears seems to have been influenced by Kate Bush. As to the poems themselves, these have been composed by Danish poet Lars Saabye Christensen and they all refer to specific places, predominantly hotels, in major cities throughout the globe. The most compelling songs to these ears are those devoted to Hamburg, ‘Vier Jahreszeiten’, and to Lisbon, ‘Savoy, Lisbon’, while hotels that are no longer are paid homage to on with, ‘Mayflower, New York’, a hotel where Ketil Bjørnstad stayed, but which has subsequently closed down and replaced, by all things, Trump Tower! The very last hotel, Schloß Elmau, has also been used as a location for recordings of musicians on the ACT label and thus locations and music can operate in tandem.

If anything, the music has an American songbook feel to it. The only question mark this writer would raise is why the words are not also linked to the cities themselves. Where for example is the Lutetia in Paris (it is for the uninitiated located in the swanky Rive Gauche of the Latin Quarter in the sixth arrondissement, but none of this information is at the listener’s disposal), and how does it relate to the stay in Paris as a whole? We learn nothing about that experience from the lyrics which is a pity. Otherwise, a truly creative endeavour and the music does operate effectively independent of the words.

Tim Stenhouse