Kjetil Mulelid ‘Piano’ LP/CD (Rune Grammofon) 5/5

As lockdown begins to ease and I’m jolted by the reality of frenetic springtime activity, the quiet order of this solo piano recording by Kjetil André Mulelid is the perfect antidote to it all. It’s a real help with the transition back to normal life. Lacking a percussive element is certainly working in its favour, somehow eking out the quietness of lockdown for just a little longer.

Norwegian pianist Kjetil Mulelid also leads a trio with Bjørn Marius Hegge (bass) and Andreas Skår Winther (drums). They’ve released a couple of well-received albums: Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House (Rune Grammofon 2017) and 2019’s ‘What You Thought Was Home’. Mulelid describes his approach to Not Nearly Enough To Buy a House as ‘playful, curious, energetic’. He had been a little sceptical regarding the idea of recording a solo piano album but as with so many things in life, the timing was key. As the pandemic hit other plans had to be abandoned allowing enough uncluttered time to realise the project. It was recorded at Athletic Sound, Halden, Norway in June last year on the studio’s 1919 Bösendorfer grand piano. The album’s eleven tracks are originals by Mulelid written in the earlier period of lockdown.

In 2018 Mulelid gave Jazz Espresso magazine an insight into his thought processes, “if you play with an open thought and you’re ready for something that will change the musical direction in some way then I think you’re into some kind of jazz thought”. Prior to recording the album, Mulelid was listening to the likes of Christian Wallumrød, Shai Maestro, Paul Bley and Craig Taborn. When asked where he would take a trip in a time machine his answer gives a clue to one of his most obvious influences; that answer being: “the Opera House Cologne, January 24th 1975”. His choice of a Bösendorfer grand piano also perhaps a homage to that concert of Jarrett’s, though the instrument used by Mulelid sounds in much better shape than the notoriously thin sound of the Bösendorfer baby grand used by Jarrett that day.

The album has quite a contemplative sense about it, Mulelid says he often tries to imitate a feeling whether it be: “chaotic, romantic or longing”. There’s little chaos evident on this record but the other two adjectives describe the feeling of the album pretty accurately.

The album’s opening tune, ‘Beginning’, shows the influence of the melodic classics by Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy that made an impact on the younger Mulelid. It develops incrementally and explores the full dynamic range of the instrument; it’s so beautifully recorded by Dag Erik Johansen, I felt I was actually in there with the Bösendorfer. The sense of longing is explored on a trio of tunes: ‘Love Story’, ‘For You I’ll Do Anything’ and ‘A Sailors’ Song’. Really, this album gets better the more you listen to it. There are some intensely vibrant passages that travel from darkness to light and back as well as those with a turbulence and a dangerous undercurrent. In places, the journey is more restrained but always soulful and eloquent.

Probably the best way to approach this album is to find a quiet room, turn up the volume and simply be engulfed by the wonderful dynamics of this recording. That’s how I’ve spent my evenings this week anyway.

James Read

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